The Panama Canal after a century of human impacts

Jorge Salgado, María I. Vélez, Catalina González-Arango, Neil L. Rose, Handong Yang, Carme Huguet, Juan Camacho & Aaron O’Dea

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Sep 23, 2019
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Received Date: 16th September 19

Large tropical river dam projects are set to accelerate over the forthcoming decades to satisfy growing demand for energy, irrigation and flood control. When tropical rivers are dammed, the immediate impacts are well studied, but the long-term (decades-centuries) consequences of impoundment remain poorly known. Here, we gather historical and paleoecological data from Gatun Lake, formed by the building of the Gatun Dam (Panama Canal, Panamá) over 100 years ago, to reconstruct the limnological evolution of the system in response to individual and linked stressors (river damming, forest flooding, deforestation, invasive species, pollution and hydro-climate). We found that after a century of dam construction parallels associated with the natural hydrological functioning of river floodplains persist. Hence, hydrology remains the most important temporal structural factor positively stimulating primary productivity, deposition of new minerals, and reduction of water transparency during wet periods. During dry periods, clear water and aerobic conditions prevail and nutrients transform into available forms in the detrital-rich reductive sediments. We highlight the importance of climate change as an ultimate rather than proximate anthropogenic factor for sustainable management options of tropical dams.

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This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications.

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Nature Communications

Nature Research, Springer Nature