What is the influence of a reduction of planktivorous and benthivorous fish on water quality in temperate eutrophic lakes? (systematic review)


In recent decades, many attempts have been made to restore eutrophic lakes through biomanipulation. Reducing the populations of planktivorous and benthivorous fish (either directly or through stocking of piscivorous fish) may induce ecosystem changes that increase water transparency and decrease the risk of algal blooms and fish kills, at least in the short term. However, the generality of biomanipulation effects on water quality across lake types and geographical regions is not known. Therefore, we have undertaken a systematic review of such effects in eutrophic lakes in temperate regions throughout the world.


Searches for literature were made using online publication databases, search engines, specialist websites and bibliographies of literature reviews. Search terms were developed in English, Danish, Dutch and Swedish. Identified articles were screened for relevance using inclusion criteria set out in an a priori protocol. To reduce the risk of bias, we then critically appraised the combined evidence found on each biomanipulation. Data were extracted on outcomes such as Secchi depth and chlorophyll a concentration before, during and/or after manipulation, and on effect modifiers such as lake properties and amounts of fish removed or stocked.


Our searches identified more than 14,500 articles. After screening for relevance, 233 of them remained. After exclusions based on critical appraisal, our evidence base included useful data on 128 biomanipulations in 123 lakes. Of these interventions, 85% had been made in Europe and 15% in North America. Meta-analysis showed that removal of planktivores and benthivores (with or without piscivore stocking) leads to increased Secchi depth and decreased chlorophyll a concentration during intervention and the first three years afterwards. Piscivore stocking alone has no significant effect. The response of chlorophyll a levels to biomanipulation is stronger in lakes where fish removal is intense, and in lakes which are small and/or have high pre-manipulation concentrations of total phosphorus.


Our review improves on previous reviews of biomanipulation in that we identified a large number of case studies from many parts of the world and used a consistent, repeatable process to screen them for relevance and susceptibility to bias. Our results indicate that removal of planktivorous and benthivorous fish is a useful means of improving water quality in eutrophic lakes. Biomanipulation tends to be particularly successful in relatively small lakes with short retention times and high phosphorus levels. More thorough fish removal increases the efficacy of biomanipulation. Nonetheless successes and failures have occurred across a wide range of conditions.


Biomanipulation, Planktivore, Benthivore, Piscivore stocking, Fish removal, Lake restoration, Eutrophication, Water quality, Phytoplankton


In lakes that have become eutrophic due to sewage discharges or nutrient runoff from land, problems such as algal blooms and oxygen deficiency often persist even when nutrient supplies have been reduced. One reason is that phosphorus stored in the sediments can exchange with the water. There are indications that the high abundance of phytoplankton, turbid water and lack of submerged vegetation seen in many eutrophic lakes may represent a semi-stable state. For that reason, a shift back to more natural clear-water conditions could be difficult to achieve.

In some cases, though, temporary mitigation of eutrophication-related problems has been accomplished through biomanipulation: stocks of zooplanktivorous fish have been reduced by intensive fishing, leading to increased populations of phytoplankton-feeding zooplankton. Moreover, reduction of benthivorous fish may result in lower phosphorus fluxes from the sediments. An alternative to reducing the dominance of planktivores and benthivores by fishing is to stock lakes with piscivorous fish. These two approaches have often been used in combination.

The implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive has recently led to more stringent demands for measures against eutrophication, and a systematic review could clarify whether biomanipulation is efficient as a measure of that kind.


The review will examine primary field studies of how large-scale biomanipulation has affected water quality and community structure in eutrophic lakes or reservoirs in temperate regions. Such studies can be based on comparison between conditions before and after manipulation, on comparison between treated and non-treated water bodies, or both. Relevant outcomes include Secchi depth, concentrations of oxygen, nutrients, suspended solids and chlorophyll, abundance and composition of phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish, and coverage of submerged macrophytes.