• chlorophyll;
  • colonisation depth;
  • indicator species;
  • macrophyte coverage;
  • phosphorus;
  • species richness;
  • Water Framework Directive


1. We analysed submerged macrophyte communities from 300 Danish lakes to determine the efficacy of different species, maximum colonisation depth (Cmax) of plants as well as coverage and plant volume inhabited (PVI) as indicators of eutrophication.

2. Most species occurred at a wide range of phosphorus and chlorophyll a (Chla) concentrations, but some species of isoetids (Lobelia, Isoëtes) and Potamogeton (Potamogeton gramineus, Potamogeton alpinus and Potamogeton filiformis) were mainly found at low nutrient concentrations and hence may be considered as indicators of nutrient poor conditions. However, species typically found in nutrient-rich conditions, such as Elodea canadensis and Potamogeton pectinatus, were also found at total phosphorus (TP) <0.02 mg P L−1 and Chla <5 μg L−1 and therefore cannot be considered as reliable indicators of eutrophic conditions.

3. Submerged macrophyte coverage, PVI and the Cmax were negatively correlated with TP and Chla. However, variability among lakes was high and no clear thresholds were observed. At TP between 0.03 and 0.07 mg P L−1 plant coverage in shallow lakes ranged from nearly 0 to 100%, whilst at concentrations between 0.10 and 0.20 mg P L−1 only 29% of the lakes had coverage >10%. Cmax was found to be a useful indicator only in deep lakes with unvegetated areas in the deeper part, whereas the use of coverage was restricted to shallow lakes or shallow areas of deep lakes.

4. Overall, submerged macrophytes responded clearly to eutrophication, but the metrics investigated here showed no well-defined thresholds. We developed a simple index based on species richness, presence of indicator species, coverage and Cmax, which might be used to track major changes in macrophyte communities and for lake classification.