Environmental Warming in Shallow Lakes: A Review of Potential Changes in Community Structure as Evidenced from Space-for-Time Substitution Approaches

Publication Type:

Book Chapter


Global Change in Multispecies Systems Part 1, Academic Press, Volume Volume 46, p.259 - 349 (2012)






Alternative states; Body size; Experimental warming; Cross-comparison; Latitudinal gradient; Metabolic theory of ecology; Predation pressure


Shallow lakes, one of the most widespread water bodies in the world landscape, are very sensitive to climate change. Several theories predict changes in community traits, relevant for ecosystem functioning, with higher temperature. The space-for-time substitution approach (SFTS) provides one of the most plausible empirical evaluations for these theories, helping to elucidate the long-term consequences of changes in climate.

Here, we reviewed the changes at the community level for the main freshwater taxa and assemblages (i.e. fishes, macroinvertebrates, zooplankton, macrophytes, phytoplankton, periphyton and bacterioplankton), under different climates. We analyzed data obtained from latitudinal and altitudinal gradients and cross-comparison (i.e. SFTS) studies, supplemented by an analysis of published geographically dispersed data for those communities or traits not covered in the SFTS literature.

We found only partial empirical evidence supporting the theoretical predictions. The prediction of higher richness at warmer locations was supported for fishes, phytoplankton and periphyton, while the opposite was true for macroinvertebrates and zooplankton. With decreasing latitude, the biomass of cladoceran zooplankton and periphyton and the density of zooplankton and macroinvertebrates declined (opposite for fishes for both biomass and density variables). Fishes and cladoceran zooplankton showed the expected reduction in body size with higher temperature. Life history changes in fish and zooplankton and stronger trophic interactions at intermediate positions in the food web (fish predation on zooplankton and macroinvertebrates) were evident, but also a weaker grazing pressure of zooplankton on phytoplankton occurred with increasing temperatures. The potential impacts of lake productivity, fish predation and other factors, such as salinity, were often stronger than those of temperature itself. Additionally, shallow lakes may shift between alternative states, complicating theoretical predictions of warming effects. SFTS and meta-analyses approaches have their shortcomings, but in combination with experimental and model studies that help reveal mechanisms, the “field situation” is indispensable to understand the potential effects of warming.