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Title: Oligotroph  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: List of lakes in the Lake District, Extremophile, Jordan Pond, Copiotroph, Lake Hall
Collection: Aquatic Ecology, Edaphology, Limnology, Oligotrophs
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


An oligotroph is an nutrients. They may be contrasted with copiotrophs, which prefer nutritionally rich environments. Oligotrophs are characterized by slow growth, low rates of metabolism, and generally low population density.

The adjective oligotrophic may be used to refer to environments that offer little to sustain life, organisms that survive in such environments, or the adaptations that support survival. Etymologically, the word "oligotroph" is a combination of the Greek adjective oligos (ὀλίγος)[1] meaning "few" and the adjective trophikos (τροφικός)[2]) meaning "feeding".

Oligotrophic environments include deep oceanic sediments, caves, glacial and polar ice, deep subsurface soil, aquifers, ocean waters, and leached soils.

Examples of oligotrophic organisms are the cave-dwelling lichens with their extremely low metabolic rate.


  • Plant adaptations 1
  • Oligotrophic environments 2
    • Antarctic 2.1
    • Australia 2.2
    • South America 2.3
    • Ocean 2.4
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Plant adaptations

Plant adaptations to oligotrophic soils provide for greater and more efficient nutrient uptake, reduced nutrient consumption, and efficient nutrient storage. Improvements in nutrient uptake are facilitated by root adaptations such as nitrogen-fixing root nodules, mycorrhizae and cluster roots. Consumption is reduced by very slow growth rates, and by efficient use of low-availability nutrients; for example the use of highly available ions to maintain turgor pressure, with low-availability nutrients reserved for the building of tissues. Despite these adaptations, nutrient requirement typically exceed uptake during the growing season, so many oligotrophic plants have the ability to store nutrients, for example in trunk tissues, when demand is low, and remobilise them when demand increases.

Oligotrophic environments

An ecosystem or environment is said to be oligotrophic if it offers little to sustain life. The term is commonly utilised to describe environments of water, ice, air, rock or soil with very low nutrient levels.

Oligotrophic environments are of special interest for the alternative energy sources and survival strategies upon which life could rely.


Lake Vostok, a freshwater lake which has been isolated from the world beneath 4 km (2.5 mi) of Antarctic ice for approximately 15 million years[3] is frequently held to be a primary example of an oligotrophic environment.


The sandplains and lateritic soils of southern Western Australia, where an extremely thick craton has precluded any geological activity since the Cambrian and there has been no glaciation to renew soils since the Carboniferous. Thus, soils are extremely nutrient-poor and most vegetation must use strategies such as cluster roots to gain even the smallest quantities of such nutrients as phosphorus and sulfur.

The vegetation in these regions, however, is remarkable for its biodiversity, which in places is as great as that of a tropical rainforest and produces some of the most spectacular wildflowers in the world. It is however, severely threatened by climate change which has moved the winter rain belt south, and also by clearing for agriculture and through use of fertilizers, which is primarily driven by low land costs which make farming economic even with yields a fraction of those in Europe or North America.

South America

An example of oligotrophic soils are those on white-sands, with

  • Special issue about Lake oligotrophication published in Freshwater Biology

External links

  1. ^ ὀλίγος. Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  2. ^ τροφικός. Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  3. ^ "Race against time for raiders of the lost lake".  
  4. ^ Janzen, D. H. (1974). "Tropical Blackwater Rivers, Animals, and Mast Fruiting by the Dipterocarpaceae". Biotropica 6 (2): 69–103.  
  5. ^ Sioli, Harald (1975). "Tropical rivers as expressions of their terrestrial environments". In Golley, F. B.; Medina, E. Tropical Ecological Systems/Trends in Terrestrial and Aquatic Research. New York: Springer. pp. 275–288.  
  6. ^ German, Laura A. (2004). "Ecological praxis and blackwater ecosystems: a case study from the Brazilian Amazon". Human Ecology: An Interdisciplinary Journal 32 (6): 653–683.  
  7. ^ Del Valle-Arango, Jorge Ignacio (2003). "Cantidad, calidad y nutrientes reciclados por la hojarasca fina en bosques pantanosos del Pacífico sur colombiano". Interciencia 28 (8): 443–452.  (Spanish)
  8. ^ "Study Shows Ocean "Deserts" are Expanding".  


See also

In the Ocean, the subtropical gyres north and south of the equator are regions in which the nutrients required for phytoplankton growth (for instance, nitrate, phosphate and silicic acid) are strongly depleted all year round. These areas are described as oligotrophic and exhibit low surface chlorophyll. They are occasionally described as "ocean deserts".[8]


[7] delta on the Pacific side of the Andes.Patía River Similar forests are found in the oligotrophic waters of the [6][5][4]

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