1. Classification of European lake fish assemblages can be based on fish-assemblage structure or morphological, geographical, physical and chemical lake attributes. However, substantial gaps in knowledge exist with respect to the correspondence between both classification approaches.
2. Here, we compiled fish assemblage data from 165 lakes situated in the European ‘Central Plains’ ecoregion. Cluster analysis of fish abundances was performed to compare fish assemblage types of the entire ecoregion with those from previous country-specific studies. Nonparametric group comparisons, classification trees and partial canonical ordinations were used to infer the correspondence between fish assemblage types and morphology, geographical position and nutrient concentration of the lakes.
3. Three distinct fish assemblages were revealed: vendace (Coregonus albula), ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernuus) and roach (Rutilus rutilus) lake types. Both latitude and lake depth were the best determinants of lake type, but total phosphorus (TP) concentrations were also important. Vendace lakes were deep and had low TP concentrations, whereas the shallower ruffe and roach lakes had higher TP values. Roach lakes were more frequent in the north-west area of the ecoregion, whereas ruffe lakes were more often found south of the Baltic Sea.
4. Controlling for the influence of nutrient concentration showed that lake morphology and geographical position were important determinants of fish assemblages. However, the variance explained was low (<20%), implying that biological interactions may also be important in forming the lake-specific fish assemblages.
5. The results suggest that fish assemblages differ between deep and shallow lakes, and between the north-west and south-east locations within the Central Plains ecoregion. Accordingly, establishment of depth-related lake morphotypes is needed, and the European ecoregions recommended to be used in evaluation systems according to the Water Framework Directive seem to be too coarse to reflect the subtle differences of fish species richness along geographical gradients.