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Consequences of fish kills for long-term trophic structure in shallow lakes: Implications for theory and restoration

By C.D. Sayer, T.A. Davidson, R. Rawcliffe, P.G. Langdon, P.R. Leavitt, G. Cockerton, N.L. Rose and T. Croft


Fish kills are a common occurrence in shallow, eutrophic lakes, but their ecological consequences, especially in the long-term, are poorly understood. We studied the decadal-scale response of two UK shallow lakes to fish kills using a palaeolimnological approach. Eutrophic and turbid Barningham Lake experienced two fish kills in the early 1950s and late 1970s with fish recovering after both events, whereas less eutrophic, macrophyte-dominated Wolterton Lake experienced one kill event in the early 1970s from which fish failed to recover. Our palaeo-data show fish-driven trophic cascade effects across all trophic levels (covering benthic and pelagic species) in both lakes regardless of pre-kill macrophyte coverage and trophic status. In turbid Barningham Lake, similar to long-term studies of biomanipulations in other eutrophic lakes, effects at the macrophyte-level are shown to be temporary after the first kill (c. 20 years) and non-existent after the second kill. In plant-dominated Wolterton Lake permanent fish disappearance failed to halt a long-term pattern of macrophyte community change (e.g. loss of charophytes and over-wintering macrophyte species) symptomatic of eutrophication. Important implications for theory and restoration ecology arise from our study. Firstly, our data support ideas of slow eutrophication-driven change in shallow lakes where perturbations are not necessary prerequisites for macrophyte loss. Secondly, the study emphasises a key need for lake managers to reduce external nutrient-loading if sustainable and long-term lake restoration is to be achieved. Our research highlights the enormous potential of multi-indicator palaeolimnology and alludes to an important need to consider potential fish kill signatures when interpreting results

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