Assessing lake ecological status across a trophic gradient through environmental and biological variables

Katrina A. Macintosh, Hannah Cromie, Elena Forasacco, Kevin Gallagher, Fiona L. Kelly, Yvonne McElarney, Eugene O'Kane, Andrew Paul, Brian Rippey, Robert Rosell, Louise Vaughan, Colleen Ward, David Griffiths

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1 Citation (Scopus)
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The Water Framework Directive was widely welcomed because it sought to integrate chemical and biological elements of aquatic ecosystems to achieve ‘good ecological status’, reflecting at most slight anthropogenic impact. However, implementation has been criticised because of the failure to adequately integrate these elements and assess status of the whole ecosystem. In this study, a suite of environmental and biotic variables was measured to assess their relative importance as predictors of lake status for 50 lakes in the north of the island of Ireland. Total Phosphorus (TP) had a strong effect on taxon biomasses and ecological quality ratios (EQR) for most taxa, as expected, but other environmental variables, such as pH, water colour and spatial location, were also important. Most variance in mean EQR, the average of the taxon values, was predicted by five environmental variables (chlorophyll a, TP, population density, water colour and elevation) and whether (alien) cyprinid fish were present. Oligotrophic lakes with cyprinid fish had lower mean EQRs than cyprinid-free lakes, indicating the importance of recording species introductions when assessing lake status. Strong evidence for bottom-up effects was also detected, and cyprinids probably influenced trophic structure by increasing nutrient release from the sediment rather than by top-down effects. Phytoplankton biomass, fish biomasses, and the percentage of predatory fish, increased with TP. Our results further emphasize the need to adopt a more integrated approach when assessing lake status.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)831-840
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date04 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2019


  • Nutrient gradient
  • Lake quality metrics
  • Environmental and biotic variables
  • Species introductions
  • Trophic structure

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