MEPS 262:277-284 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps262277

Impact of three-spined stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus on zooplankton and chl a in shallow, eutrophic, brackish lakes

Tue Stenholm Jakobsen1,*, Pia Borch Hansen1, Erik Jeppesen1,2, Peter Grønkjær3, Martin Søndergaard1

1Department of Freshwater Ecology, National Environmental Research Institute, Vejlsøvej 25, PO Box 314, 8600 Silkeborg, Denmark
2Department of Botanical Ecology, Biological Institute, Aarhus University, Nordlandsvej 68, 8240 Risskov, Denmark
3Department of Marine Ecology, Biological Institute, Aarhus University, Finlandsgade 14, 8200 Århus N, Denmark
*Email:

ABSTRACT: The 3-spined stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus often dominates fish communities in eutrophic, brackish, north-temperate lakes where it is thought to contribute significantly to the low zooplankton biomass and low grazing pressure on phytoplankton. To elucidate its effect on zooplankton community structure and phytoplankton biomass (chl a), we conducted a 5.5 mo enclosure experiment with sticklebacks at different densities in high nutrient concentrations and a salinity of 2 psu. Increasing fish density (0 to 10.2 sticklebacks m-2) led to substantial changes in the zooplankton community structure, an increase in phytoplankton chl a, and a reduction in water clarity. At densities below 4 to 6 sticklebacks m-2, large-bodied cladocerans dominated the zooplankton biomass, the zooplankton:phytoplankton biomass ratio was high (>1), and chl a was accordingly low (<20 µg l-1). At higher stickleback densities, large cladocerans disappeared and the abundance of small cladocerans was low. Instead, cyclopoid copepods and rotifers dominated, the zooplankton:phytoplankton biomass ratio was well below 0.5, and chl a exceeded 200 µg l-1 in late summer. The fish density level for a shift from a clear to a turbid state is low compared to the densities observed in several eutrophic, brackish lagoons. We conclude that fish have a strong impact on water clarity in shallow, eutrophic, brackish lakes with low salinity, which may explain the usually low zooplankton:phytoplankton biomass ratio and the turbid state of such aquatic environments. However, our results also indicate that once the density level declines to below 4 to 6 sticklebacks m-2, a shift to a clear state is likely to occur.


KEY WORDS: Sticklebacks · Predation · Top-down control · Saline · Brackish lakes


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