The influence of water level on macrophyte growth and trophic interactions in eutrophic Mediterranean shallow lakes: a mesocosm experiment with and without fish

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Freshwater Biology, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Volume 57, Number 8, p.1631–1642 (2012)



bottom-up control; climate change; hydrology; periphyton; top-down control


1. Water-level fluctuations are typical of lakes located in the semi-arid Mediterranean region, which is characterised by warm rainy winters and hot dry summers. Ongoing climate change may exacerbate fluctuations and lead to more severe episodes of drought, so information on the effects of water level on the functioning of lake ecosystems in such regions is crucial.2. In eutrophic Lake Eymir, Turkey, we conducted a 4-month (summer) field experiment using cylindrical 0.8-m- (low-water-level) and 1.6-m-deep (high-water-level) mesocosms (kept open to the sediment and atmosphere). Fish (tench, Tinca tinca, and bleak, Alburnus escherichii) were added to half of the mesocosms, while the rest were kept fishless. Ten shoots of Potamogeton pectinatus were transplanted to each mesocosm.3. Sampling for physicochemical variables, chlorophyll a (chl-a), zooplankton and per cent plant volume inhabited (PVI%) by macrophytes was conducted weekly during the first 5 weeks, and subsequently biweekly. Macrophytes were harvested on the last sampling date. During the course of the experiment, the water level decreased by 0.41 ± 0.06 m.4. Throughout the experiment, fish affected zooplankton abundance (−), nutrient concentrations (+), chl-a (+) and water clarity (−) most strongly in the low-water-level mesocosms and the zooplankton community shifted towards dominance of small-sized forms. The fishless mesocosms had a higher zooplankton/phytoplankton ratio, suggesting higher grazing.5. Greatest macrophyte growth was observed in the low-water-level fishless mesocosms. However, despite high nutrient concentrations and low water clarity, macrophytes were also abundant in the fish mesocosms and particularly increased following a water-level decrease from midsummer onwards. Macrophyte growth was poor in the high-water-level mesocosms, even in the fishless ones with high water clarity. This was ascribed to extensive periphyton development reducing light availability for the macrophytes.6. Our results indicate that a reduction in water level during summer may help maintain the growth of macrophytes in Mediterranean eutrophic shallow lakes, despite a strong negative effect of fish predation on water clarity. It is therefore probable that an expected negative effect of global climate change on water clarity because of eutrophication and enhanced top-down control of fish may be, at least partly, counteracted by reduced water level, provided that physical disturbance is not severe.