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Abiotic and biotic processes in lakes recovering from acidification: the relative roles of metal toxicity and fish predation as barriers to zooplankton re-establishment


Charles Ramcharan, Department of Biology, Laurentian University, Ramsey Lake Road, Sudbury, ON P3E 2C6, Canada. E-mail:


1. Recovery of acidified aquatic systems may be affected by both abiotic and biotic processes. However, the relative roles of these factors in regulating recovery may be difficult to determine. Lakes around the smelting complexes near Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, formerly affected by acidification and metal exploration, provide an excellent opportunity to examine the factors regulating the recovery of aquatic communities.

2. Substantial recovery of zooplankton communities has occurred in these lakes following declines in acidity and metal concentrations, although toxicity by residual metals still appears to limit survival for many species. Metal bioavailability, not simply total metal concentrations, was very important in determining effects on zooplankton and was associated with a decrease in the relative abundance of cyclopoids and Daphnia spp., resulting in communities dominated by Holopedium gibberum.

3.  As chemical habitat quality has improved and fish, initially yellow perch and later piscivores (e.g. smallmouth bass, walleye), have invaded, biotic effects on the zooplankton are also becoming apparent. Simple fish assemblages dominated by perch appear to limit the survival of some zooplankton species, particularly Daphnia mendotae.

4. Both abiotic (residual metal contamination) and biotic (predation from planktivorous fish) processes have very important effects on zooplankton recovery. The re-establishment of the zooplankton in lakes recovering from stress will require both improvements in habitat quality and the restoration of aquatic food webs.