The past is a key to the future: Lessons paleoecological data can provide for management of the African Great Lakes

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Rapid ecological changes in the African Great Lakes (AGL) present lake managers with extraordinary challenges to understand the changes’ underlying causes and forecast what they portend for the future. Monitoring and experimental data from the AGL are essential but are limited in duration and continuity. The magnitude of change suggests that a centennial-millennial timescale perspective is needed to identify drivers of change and prepare for changes yet to come. In this review I propose that paleoecological and paleolimnological approaches can provide this perspective. AGL paleorecords have documented the impacts of excess sedimentation, external nutrient loading, and climate change, and can demonstrate the specific ecosystem responses associated with these various drivers. Paleorecords can help us understand how multiple stressors interact and in some cases can falsify specific cause-and-effect hypotheses when the putative causes can be shown to have occurred after the effect started. The number of useful AGL paleorecords is still quite small. Replication is needed to test if patterns seen and hypotheses inferred from single localities are robust for an entire lake, and to understand regional variability within and between lakes. Because many paleorecord methods are quite inexpensive it would be highly desirable if these approaches were incorporated into the routine tool kit of local AGL scientists working in tandem with fisheries and water-quality scientists. Training African lake scientists and conservation biologists to analyze paleorecords should be a high priority for AGL stakeholders interested in the long-term prognoses for the economic and biodiversity resources that they oversee.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1142-1153
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • African Great Lakes
  • Climate change
  • Eutrophication
  • Paleoecology
  • Paleolimnology
  • Sedimentation impacts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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