Patterns and drivers of deep chlorophyll maxima structure in 100 lakes: The relative importance of light and thermal stratification

The vertical distribution of chlorophyll in stratified lakes and reservoirs frequently exhibits a maximum peak deep in the water column, referred to as the deep chlorophyll maximum (DCM). DCMs are ecologically important hot spots of primary production and nutrient cycling, and their location can determine vertical habitat gradients for primary consumers. Consequently, the drivers of DCM structure regulate many characteristics of aquatic food webs and biogeochemistry. Previous studies have identified light and thermal stratification as important drivers of summer DCM depth, but their relative importance across a broad range of lakes is not well resolved. We analyzed profiles of chlorophyll fluorescence, temperature, and light during summer stratification from 100 lakes in the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON) and quantified two characteristics of DCM structure: depth and thickness. While DCMs do form in oligotrophic lakes, we found that they can also form in eutrophic to dystrophic lakes. Using a random forest algorithm, we assessed the relative importance of variables associated with light attenuation vs. thermal stratification for predicting DCM structure in lakes that spanned broad gradients of morphometry and transparency. Our analyses revealed that light attenuation was a more important predictor of DCM depth than thermal stratification and that DCMs deepen with increasing lake clarity. DCM thickness was best predicted by lake size with larger lakes having thicker DCMs. Additionally, our analysis demonstrates that the relative importance of light and thermal stratification on DCM structure is not uniform across a diversity of lake types.