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Latin american journal of aquatic research

On-line version ISSN 0718-560X

Lat. Am. J. Aquat. Res. vol.45 no.2 Valparaíso May 2017

http://dx.doi.org/10.3856/vol45-issue2-fulltext-24 

Short Communication

 

A glimpse to Laguna de los Cisnes, a field laboratory and natural monument in the Chilean Patagonia

 

Norka Fuentes1 & Gonzalo Gajardo2

1 Laboratorio de Limnología, Departamento de Acuicultura y Recursos Agroalimentarios Universidad de Los Lagos, Campus Osorno, Chile
2
Laboratorio de Genética, Acuicultura & Biodiversidad, Departamento de Ciencias Biológicas & Biodiversidad, Universidad de Los Lagos, Campus Osorno, Chile

Corresponding author: Gonzalo Gajardo (ggajardo@ulagos.cl)
Corresponding editor: Beatriz Modenutti


ABSTRACT. Laguna de los Cisnes (53°15'S) is a remote and unusual salty lagoon located in the Chilean Patagonia, declared natural monument to protect bird diversity in the area, which could also serve as a natural laboratory to monitor climate change. This study reports basic water, sediment and plankton characteristics observed during a summer (December) sampling, when the lagoon was hypersaline (51 g L-1), cold (9°C) and eutrophic, according to the high concentrations of phosphorous (0.30 ± 0.73 mg L-1), nitrate (0.66 ± 0.14 mg L-1) and chlorophyll-a (44.25 ± 2.52 μg L-1). The microalgae Spirogyra sp. and the micro-crustacean Artemia are predominating plankton. Results are discussed in the context of the climatic conditions affecting this lagoon year-round.

Keywords: Artemia, plankton, algae, hydrographic parameters, salty lagoon, southern Chile.


 

Chile exhibits wide latitudinal (39° to 61°S) and altitudinal gradient (from sea level up 6,960 m above sea level in the Andes Mountains), along which hypersaline lakes and lagoons occur at very contrasting selective pressures (e.g., day/night temperature variation, evaporation-rainfall rates) imposed by climatic conditions, the geo-morphology and the mineral composition of the endorheic basins in which they are located (Risarcher et al., 2003; Dorador et al., 2013). For example, there are inland hypersaline lakes in evaporitic basins in the highlands of the Atacama Desert, a sub- tropical and extremely dry desert (24°30'S, 69°15'W) (Demergasso et al., 2004; Dorador et al., 2013), and in the Patagonia, between 39 and 53°S, an arid and semi-humid climate, and steppe-like landscape (Campos et al., 1996). Patagonian hypersaline lagoons are special or atypical since conditions for maintaining brines (high salt concentration; up to 3 g L-1), i.e., high evaporation rates and low rainfall, are normally found in tropical and subtropical areas (Van Stappen, 2002). In fact, deep and oligotrophic freshwater lakes of glacier origin are common in Patagonia, whilst salty lagoons are relatively shallow and the exception. In the area conditions for high water evaporation and low rainfall are mainly observed in the dry season (December-March), but extremely windy conditions seem to play also a role in evaporation year-round (Saijo et al., 1995; Campos et al., 1996). Wind also tends to homogenize the water column. Another striking feature of salty lagoons in Patagonia is the high inter-annual variation in the water conditions, and the environmental situation, as reported by Campos et al. (1996) for Laguna Amarg a, a mesohaline lagoon located (50°29'S, 73°45'W) at the entrance of Torres del Paine National Park. Other two salty lagoons are reported thus far close to the town Porvenir: Laguna de la Sal (Gajardo & Beristain, 2014) and Laguna de los Cisnes (Van Stappen, 2002; De los Ríos & Salgado, 2012). Owing to their unique condition and placement at southern latitudes, we highlight Laguna de los Cisnes (53°15'S, 70°22'W; Fig. 1), as a natural laboratory for biodiversity monitoring in a context of climate change.

 

Figure 1. Laguna de los Cisnes, a natural monument where the black-neck
swam and other bird species inhabit. The lagoon should be considered a
natural laboratory to monitoring climate change in a context of climate
change, as salinity fluctuations associated to rainfall determine the
zooplankton and phytoplankton diversity. During summer in the southern
hemisphere (December), the lagoon is heavily impacted by environmental
conditions.

 

This is relevant considering this 25.3 ha surface lagoon was declared natural monument by the Ministry of Agriculture (Supreme Decree, D.S. N°160) to protect black-neck swam Cygnus melancoryphus (Molina, 1782), which accounts for lagoon's name, one of the more than fifty bird species found in the area (Silva et al., 2014). The lagoon is among the southernmost sites in the world containing the brine shrimp Artemia persimilis (Piccinelli & Prosdocimi, 1968), a species restricted to the Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia (Gajardo & Beardmore, 1993; Gajardo et al, 2002; Van Stappen, 2002) which is predated by flamingos and other water birds found in the lagoon associated to it. Owing to the ecosystemic relevance of Laguna de los Cisnes, this note reports water, sediment and planktonic composition obtained during a December (summer) Artemia sampling campaign.

Water, sediment and plankton samples were collected from five stations in December 2011, using a kayak, the results of physica and chemical variables showed not significant differences between sites (P > 0.05), due to the homogenizing effect of the wind factor in this shallow lagoon (maximum depth: 3 m). Chemical water composition was assessed following the standard methodology (APHA, 2005), sediment analyses were according to Sadzawka et al. (2006), whilst zooplankton was identified according to specialized literature. Artemia persimilis was identified according to species-specific traits (Gajardo et al., 2002). Microalgae identification was done with taxonomic keys, and chlorophyll-a biomass was quantified following Nusch (1980). The Shannon diversity (H'), Pielou's evenness (J') and Hill (N1) indexes were obtained using Primer v6 (Hedingham Gardens Roborough Plymouth PL6 7DX United Kingdom).

Laguna de los Cisnes is heavily impacted by west winds prevailing during December. During sampling in December the wind factor (18 knots) and UV Index (7.10) were amongst the highest registered in the local meteorological station database (METEOCHILE, 2016). Indeed, a 14 years search (2001-2015) shows December as a critical month, exhibiting the highest UV Index (6.84 ± 0.63), and range of ambient temperatures, from 15.18 ± 1.31 to 6.25 ± 0.85°C. Water salt concentration was 51.33 ± 2.31 g L-1 which means the lagoon fits the definition of a hypersaline ecosystem (Hammer, 1986). Sulphates dominated the ionic water composition (Table 1), with the following anion abundance in the water column: SO4 > Cl > NO3. Cation abundance was: Mg > Na > Ca > Si > P> Cu> Zn. In the sediment, cation abundance was Fe > Al > Mn > Ni > Zn, plus CaCO3, a somewhat similar finding made in northern salty lagoons (Risarcher et al., 2003; Dorador et al., 2013), and Laguna Amarga, which in addition to sulphate has carbonated water ionic composition (Saijo et al., 1995; Campos et al., 1996). The high sulphate concentration is likely to be explained by the continuous wash-out of oceanic rocks (Díaz et al., 1960; Campos et al., 1996).

 

Table 1. Average physical and chemical parameters obtained from the water column
and sediments during December sampling (summer in the southern hemisphere) in five
stations in Laguna de los Cisnes. Data are pooled as stations did not show significant
differences (ANOVA, P > 0.05).

 

Phosporus (0.30 ± 0.73 mg L-1), nitrate (0.66 ± 0.14 mg L-1) and Chl-a concentration (44.25 ± 2.52 μg L-1) were high, as displayed in Table 1, which is characteristic of eutrophic conditions (OECD, 1982). De los Ríos & Soto (2009) also reported salty lakes in the area to be eutrophic as compared to freshwater lakes that are oligotrophia. The trophic condition and ionic composition of the water would be among the factors regulating planktonic communities in the lagoon. According to community indexes, crustacean biomass was high (8.3-75.7 ind L-1), but species diversity low (H' < 1 ind bits-1) and evenness high (J' < 0.9). As a matter of fact, Artemia persimilis was the dominant crustacean (59.2%), followed by two copepod types: harpacticoids (39.8%) and the halophilic calanoid Boeckella poopoensis Marsh, 1906 (0.98%) (Fig. 2a), both exhibiting wide salinity tolerance (5-90 g L-1), but tend to predate on Artemia nauplii al low salt concentration (De los Ríos & Gajardo, 2010).

 

Figure 2. Relative abundance (%) of taxa: a) planktonic crustaceans
(j: juvenile; a: adult) and b) microalgae, found in Laguna de los Cisnes during
a December (summer) sampling.

 

These copepods have been also reported in Laguna Amarga (De los Ríos & Gajardo, 2010), but tend to bloom in shallow freshwater ponds in the area (De los Ríos, 2005). The Artemia-calanoid coexistence is modulated by salinity fluctuation, but few systematic accounts on water conditions and zooplankton abundance are available for this lagoon. Judging from the rainfall database for December (14 years period), we could say that salinity should reach the highest and lowest concentration in December and June, when rainfall is 50.6 mm and 27 mm, respectively (METEO CHILE, 2016). It is worth noting that Laguna de los Cisnes would be the southernmost salty lagoon with Artemia in the world, according to the location of sites reported to have the species in Argentinian Patagonia (Cohen, 2012). Microalgae abundance was high (4584.14-22597.31 cell mL-1) and so was species diversity (<3 ind bits-1), whilst evenness was low (J' < 0.8). A total of 12 species/genera were recorded (Fig. 2b), the most abundant being Spirogyra sp. (Chlorophyceae) with 46.8% of total abundance, Bacillariophyceae with 26.6% and Chroococcus sp. y Nostoc sp. (Cyano-phyceae) with 26.6%. In Laguna Amarga a similar number of algae species (13) was reported (Campos et al., 1996), though in January (1989) in this lagoon predominate (99.7%) Cyanophyceae species (Anabaena sp. and Gloecapsa sp.), the Bacillariophyceae Gomphonema sp. (0.2%) and the Cryptophyceae Rhodomonas minuta (0.1%) being less relevant. Instead, in the mesohaline Lago Chungará in the highlands of Andes Mountains in Atacama Desert the dominating algae taxa are Chlorophyceae and Bacillariophyceae, and no Cyanophyceae was found as in our study (Mühlhauser et al., 1995). Salinity is indeed a factor greatly affecting most microalgae species (Mirande & Tracanna, 2009; Stivaletta et al., 2011).

In summary, Laguna de los Cisnes is a natural monument with high bird diversity associated that may serve as a natural laboratory to monitor climate change, since its biotic and abiotic dynamics are heavily affected by environmental conditions year-round, December being a critical month in terms of selective pressures affecting plankton species. Salinity changes associated to rainfall affect plankton diversity, particularly Artemia abundance, the typical inhabitant of extremely salty lagoons, and such changes are likely to affect bird abundance as they feed on Artemia. In order to be able to monitor climate change, water biological and environmental characteristics of Laguna de los Cisnes need to be monitored on a more regular basis.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The sampling campaign was funded by FONDEF-CONICYT, project D09I1256. Authors are grateful to Catalina Ríos for technical help, and two anonymous reviewers for constructive suggestions.

 

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Received: 26 August 2016;
Accepted: 23 January 2017

 

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