Zooplankton as indicators in lakes: a scientific-based plea for including zooplankton in the ecological quality assessment of lakes according to the European Water Framework Directive (WFD)

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Hydrobiologia, Springer Netherlands, p.1-19 (2011)




With the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), the member states have to classify the ecological status of surface waters following standardised procedures. It was a matter of some surprise to lake ecologists that zooplankton were not included as a biological quality element (BQE) despite their being considered to be an important and integrated component of the pelagic food web. To the best of our knowledge, the decision of omitting zooplankton is not wise, and it has resulted in the withdrawal of zooplankton from many so-far-solid monitoring programmes. Using examples from particularly Danish, Estonian, and the UK lakes, we show that zooplankton (sampled from the water and the sediment) have a strong indicator value, which cannot be covered by sampling fish and phytoplankton without a very comprehensive and costly effort. When selecting the right metrics, zooplankton are cost-efficient indicators of the trophic state and ecological quality of lakes. Moreover, they are important indicators of the success/failure of measures taken to bring the lakes to at least good ecological status. Therefore, we strongly recommend the EU to include zooplankton as a central BQE in the WFD assessments, and undertake similar regional calibration exercises to obtain relevant and robust metrics also for zooplankton as is being done at present in the cases of fish, phytoplankton, macrophytes and benthic invertebrates.