Consequences of Fish Kills for Long-Term Trophic Structure in Shallow Lakes Implications for Theory and Restoration

Carl D. Sayer*, Thomas A. Davidson, Ruth Rawcliffe, Peter G. Langdon, Peter R. Leavitt, Georgina Cockerton, Neil L. Rose, Toby Croft

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
41 Downloads (Pure)


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 (for example, 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1289-1309
Issue number7
Early online date22 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • biomanipulation
  • eutrophication
  • fish kills
  • macrofossils
  • palaeolimnology
  • shallow lakes
  • trophic cascades

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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