The size-distribution of Earth’s lakes

Cael, B. B. ORCID:; Seekell, D. A.. 2016 The size-distribution of Earth’s lakes. Scientific Reports, 6 (1).

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Globally, there are millions of small lakes, but a small number of large lakes. Most key ecosystem patterns and processes scale with lake size, thus this asymmetry between area and abundance is a fundamental constraint on broad-scale patterns in lake ecology. Nonetheless, descriptions of lake size-distributions are scarce and empirical distributions are rarely evaluated relative to theoretical predictions. Here we develop expectations for Earth’s lake area-distribution based on percolation theory and evaluate these expectations with data from a global lake census. Lake surface areas ≥0.46 km2 are power-law distributed with a tail exponent (τ = 2.14) and fractal dimension (d = 1.4), similar to theoretical expectations (τ = 2.05; d = 4/3). Lakes <0.46 km2 are not power-law distributed. An independently developed regional lake census exhibits a similar transition and consistency with theoretical predictions. Small lakes deviate from the power-law distribution because smaller lakes are more susceptible to dynamical change and topographic behavior at sub-kilometer scales is not self-similar. Our results provide a robust characterization and theoretical explanation for the lake size-abundance relationship, and form a fundamental basis for understanding and predicting patterns in lake ecology at broad scales.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 2045-2322
Date made live: 26 Apr 2020 13:23 +0 (UTC)

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