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What are the differences between oligotrophic and eutrophic lakes?

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Quick Answer

Oligotrophic lakes are those bodies of water that have a poor nutrient supply and little to no plant life while eutrophic lakes have a good nutrient supply and support high plant growth. The root word "trophic" means nutrition or growth, and remembering that is an easy way of remembering the basic concept indicated by the words oligotrophic and eutrophic. A combination of different factors can lead to a lake being either oligotrophic or eutrophic, including human land management and use, the water's natural temperature and the lake's size, including shape, depth and volume.

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Full Answer

Oligotrophic and eutrophic lakes can be described in terms of productivity, in which an oligotrophic lake, thanks to its low nutrient level and generally inhospitable environment for life, is said to be less productive while the more life-sustaining eutrophic lake type is said to be more productive.

In general, lakes can progress from being oligotrophic when they are first formed to being eutrophic as they mature and gain the qualities of a life-sustaining ecosystem. For example, a lake that forms in a land depression caused by a receding glacier may start out with very little life and nutrients, but microorganisms that are able to gain a foothold there begin digesting and composting organic material, making for a more fertile nutrient base that beings to sustain more plant life.

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