Biological Sciences

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Ecological degradation of the benthic littoral zone is an emerging, urgent problem at Lake Baikal (East Siberia), the most species-rich lake on Earth. Within the last five years, multiple changes have occurred in the nearshore benthos where most of the lake's endemic species reside. These changes include proliferation of benthic algae, deaths of snails and endemic sponges, large coastal wash-ups of dead benthic algae and macrophytes, blooms of toxin-producing benthic cyanobacteria, and inputs of industrial contaminants into parts of the lake. Some changes, such as massive coastal accumulations of benthic algae, are currently shared with the Laurentian Great Lakes (LGLs); however, the drivers of these changes differ between Lake Baikal and the LGLs. Coastal eutrophication from inputs of untreated sewage is causing problems at multiple sites in Lake Baikal, whereas in the LGLs, invasive dreissenid mussels redirect pelagic nutrients to the littoral substrate. At other locations in Lake Baikal, ecological degradation may have different causes including water level fluctuations and the input of toxic industrial contaminants. Importantly, the recent deterioration of the benthic littoral zone in both Lake Baikal and the LGLs has occurred while little change has occurred offshore. This highlights the necessity of monitoring both the littoral and pelagic zones of large lakes for assessing ecosystem health, change and conservation.


Post-print version of: Timoshin, O.A., et al. "Rapid ecological change in the coastal zone of Lake Baikal (East Siberia): Is the site of the world's greatest freshwater biodiversity in danger?" (2016). Journal of Great Lakes Research. doi:10.1016/j.jglr.2016.02.011