Response of zooplankton to nutrient reduction and enhanced fish predation in a shallow eutrophic lake

Zhigang Mao, Yong Cao, Xiaohong Gu, Qingfei Zeng, Huihui Chen, Erik Jeppesen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As a key link between top-down regulators and bottom-up factors, zooplankton responds sensitively to environmental variations and provides information on the ecological state of freshwater systems. Although the response of zooplankton to anthropogenic pressures and fluctuating natural conditions, such as nutrient loading and climate change, has been extensively examined, findings have varied markedly. The mechanistic basis for the correlation between environmental variability and the zooplankton community is still debated, particularly for subtropical eutrophic lakes. We used two methods to analyze physicochemical and selected biological variables derived from long-term monitoring of Lake Taihu, a subtropical shallow lake in China. We first applied random forest regression to examine how changes in zooplankton were related to a set of environmental variables on interannual time scales. Then we used the results to guide the construction of a conceptual model for piecewise structural equation modeling (pSEM) to quantify more precisely the zooplankton–environment relationship. Zooplanktivorous fish and nutrient concentrations were the most important predictors of long-term trends in zooplankton in RF regression. Intensification of planktivorous fish predation led to a lower zooplankton biomass and smaller individuals through the removal of larger crustaceans. Moreover, suppression of zooplankton can in part be explained by increases in inedible algae, triggered by a combination of reduced nutrient concentrations and weakened grazer control. These results were also confirmed in the pSEM, which further indicated that top-down regulators might be more important than bottom-up factors for the zooplankton community in Lake Taihu. Our results suggest that stocking of filter-feeding fish in the lake did not meet the expectation that they would control algae, but that the use of biomanipulation measures considering both water quality and fishery management seems promising. This study offers insights into how indicator metrics of zooplankton can improve our understanding of the associations between plankton communities and ecosystem alterations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2750
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • biomanipulation
  • consumer control
  • indicator metrics
  • piecewise structural equation modeling
  • random forest regression
  • resource control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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