Two mesocosm experiments investigating the control of summer phytoplankton growth in a small shallow lake


Brian Moss, School of Biological Sciences, Jones Building, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L693GS, U.K. E-mail:


1. Mesocosm experiments were carried out to examine the relative importance of top down (fish predation) and bottom up (nutrient addition) controls on phytoplankton abundance in a small shallow lake, Little Mere, U.K., in 1998 and 1999. These experiments were part of a series at six sites across Europe.

2. In the 1998 experiment, top-down processes (through grazing of large Cladocera) were important in determining phytoplankton biomass. The lack of plant refugia for zooplankton was probably important in causing an increasing chlorophyll a concentration even at intermediate fish density. Little Mere normally has abundant macrophytes but they failed to develop substantially during both years. Bottom-up control was not important in 1998, most probably because of high background nutrient concentrations, as a result of nutrient release from the sediments.

3. In 1999 neither top-down nor bottom-up processes were significant in determining phytoplankton biomass. Large cladoceran grazers were absent even in the fish-free enclosures, probably because dominance of cyanobacteria and high phytoplankton biomass made feeding conditions unsuitable. As in 1998, bottom-up control of phytoplankton was not important, owing to background nutrient concentrations that were even higher in 1999 than in 1998, perhaps because of the warmer, sunnier weather.

4. The differing outcomes of the two experiments in the same lake with similar experimental designs highlight the importance of starting conditions. These conditions in turn depended on overall weather conditions prior to the experiments.