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Top-down control of phytoplankton: the role of time scale, lake depth and trophic state


Jürgen Benndorf, Institute of Hydrobiology, Dresden University of Technology, Mommsenstr. 13, D-01062 Dresden, Germany. E-mail:


SUMMARY 1. One of the most controversial issues in biomanipulation research relates to the conditions required for top-down control to cascade down from piscivorous fish to phytoplankton. Numerous experiments have demonstrated that Phytoplankton biomass Top-Down Control (PTDC) occurs under the following conditions: (i) in short-term experiments, (ii) shallow lakes with macrophytes, and (iii) deep lakes of slightly eutrophic or mesotrophic state. Other experiments indicate that PTDC is unlikely in (iv) eutrophic or hypertrophic deep lakes unless severe light limitation occurs, and (v) all lakes characterised by extreme nutrient limitation (oligo to ultraoligotrophic lakes).

2. Key factors responsible for PTDC under conditions (i) to (iii) are time scales preventing the development of slow-growing inedible phytoplankton (i), shallow depth allowing macrophytes to become dominant primary producers (ii), and biomanipulation-induced reduction of phosphorus (P) availability for phytoplankton (iii).

3. Under conditions (iv) and (v), biomanipulation-induced reduction of P-availability might also occur but is insufficient to alter the epilimnetic P-content enough to initiate effective bottom-up control (P-limitation) of phytoplankton. In these cases, P-loading is much too high (iv) or P-content in the lake much too low (v) to initiate or enhance P-limitation of phytoplankton by a biomanipulation-induced reduction of P-availability. However, PTDC may exceptionally result under condition (iv) if high mixing depth and/or light attenuation cause severe light limitation of phytoplankton.

4. Recognition of the five different conditions reconciles previous seemingly contradictory results from biomanipulation experiments and provides a sound basis for successful application of biomanipulation as a tool for water management.