Document Type


Publication Title

Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences


American Geophysical Union

Publication Date



Climate variability affects the capacity of the biosphere to assimilate and store important elements, such as nitrogen and carbon. Here we present biogeochemical evidence from the sediments of tropical Lake Titicaca indicating that large hydrologic changes in response to global glacial cycles during the Quaternary were accompanied by major shifts in ecosystem state. During prolonged glacial intervals, lake level was high and the lake was in a stable nitrogen-limited state. In contrast, during warm dry interglacials lake level fell and rates of nitrogen concentrations increased by a factor of 4–12, resulting in a fivefold to 24-fold increase in organic carbon concentrations in the sediments due to increased primary productivity. Observed periods of increased primary productivity were also associated with an apparent increase in denitrification. However, the net accumulation of nitrogen during interglacial intervals indicates that increased nitrogen supply exceeded nitrogen losses due to denitrification, thereby causing increases in primary productivity. Although primary productivity in tropical ecosystems, especially freshwater ecosystems, tends to be nitrogen limited, our results indicate that climate variability may lead to changes in nitrogen availability and thus changes in primary productivity. Therefore some tropical ecosystems may shift between a stable state of nitrogen limitation and a stable state of nitrogen saturation in response to varying climatic conditions.


Accepted for publication in Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences. Copyright 2011 American Geophysical Union. Further reproduction or electronic distribution is not permitted.