Controls of algal abundance and community composition during ecosystem state change

Suzanne McGowan*, Peter R. Leavitt, Roland I. Hall, N. John Anderson, Erik Jeppesen, Bent V. Odgaard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

105 Citations (Scopus)


Shallow lake ecosystems can shift between clear-water, macrophyte-rich conditions and turbid states with abundant phytoplankton. However, little is known about the controls of algal community composition and primary production before, during, and after ecosystem state change, because long time series that monitor biological change through the transition are scarce. Using proxy data sets derived from sediment cores from two shallow hypertrophic lakes in Denmark, variance-partitioning analysis (VPA) was used to determine the relative importance of changes in total phosphorus (diatom inferred), planktivorous fish density (zooplankton inferred), and submerged macrophyte communities (as macrofossil abundance) as determinants of algal abundance and community composition (as sedimentary pigments) over ecosystem state transitions since 1750 (CE) for Lake Lading and 1900 for Lake Søbygaard. Past variation in densities of planktivorous fish explained 12.3% and 18.2% of historical algal community change in lakes Lading and Søbygaard, respectively, while a further 22.3% and 6% of algal variability was explained by variation in macrophyte abundance. Total phosphorus (TP) alone explained nonsignificant amounts of variance (1.5%, 3.6%) but had a significant effect in combination with macrophytes and fish (27%, 13.4%). State transitions occurred ca. 1940 but were preceded by increases in benthic diatoms and macrophytes, suggesting that transitions were gradual rather than instantaneous. In contrast, green, colonial blue-green, and cryptophyte algae were abundant only during turbid states after ca. 1960 and were correlated to changes in planktivorous fish or fish-TP interactions. Contrary to expectations, the shift from predominantly benthic to pelagic algal production represented only a change in habitat and did not result in an increase in total abundance of primary producers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2200-2211
Number of pages12
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Denmark
  • Diatoms
  • Ecosystem state change
  • Eutrophication
  • Macrophytes
  • Paleolimnology
  • Pigments
  • Planktivorous fish
  • Primary producers
  • Shallow lakes
  • State transition
  • Variance partitioning analysis


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