Response of fish and plankton to nutrient loading reduction in eight shallow Danish lakes with special emphasis on seasonal dynamics


Erik Jeppesen, Department of Freshwater Ecology, National Environmental Research Institute, Vejlsøvej 25, DK-8600 Silkeborg, Denmark. E-mail:


1. For 13 years the response of the plankton and fish community to a decline in external phosphorus loading was studied in eight lakes with a mean depth <5 m. We conducted chi-square analyses of sign of slope (positive or negative) of bimonthly averages of plankton variables for the eight lakes versus time. For fish, we compared results from two periods, i.e. 1989–1994 versus 1994–2001 as less data were available.

2. Fish community structure tended to respond to the lowered concentration of total phosphorus (TP), although not all changes were significant. While catch per unit effort (multi-mesh sized gill nets) of cyprinids (especially bream, Abramis brama and roach, Rutilus rutilus) was highest in the first 5-year period, the quantitative importance particularly of perch (Perca fluviatilis), pike (Esox lucius) and rudd (Scardinius erythropthalmus), a littoral species, increased significantly after 1994.

3. No changes occurred in zooplankton biomass, except for an increase in November and December. Biomass of small cladocerans, however, declined during summer and autumn, and the proportion of Daphnia to cladoceran biomass also increased. Average body weight of Daphnia and that of all cladocerans increased. The proportion of calanoids among copepods decreased in summer and the average body weight of cyclopoids and calanoids decreased during summer and autumn/early winter.

4. Total biovolume of phytoplankton declined significantly in March to June and tended to decline in November and December as well, while no significant changes were observed during summer and autumn. Non-heterocystous cyanobacteria showed a decreasing trend during summer and autumn, while heterocystous cyanobacteria increased significantly in late summer. An increase in late summer was also evident for cryptophytes and chrysophytes, while diatoms tended to decline during most seasons.

5. We conclude that phytoplankton, and probably also fish, responded rapidly to reduced loading, whereas the effect on zooplankton was less pronounced. However, increases in body weight of cladocerans and the zooplankton to phytoplankton biomass ratio during summer indicate reduced top-down control on zooplankton and enhanced grazing on phytoplankton. This conclusion is supported by a tendency for fish biomass to decline and a shift towards greater dominance by piscivores and, thus, an increased likelihood of predator control of zooplanktivorous cyprinids.