Aquatic Ecology

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 237-251

First online:

Classifying aquatic macrophytes as indicators of eutrophication in European lakes

  • W. Ellis PenningAffiliated withDeltaresNIOO-Centre for Limnology, Publication 4296 NIOO-KNAW Email author 
  • , Marit MjeldeAffiliated withNIVA
  • , Bernard DudleyAffiliated withCEH, Edinburgh
  • , Seppo HellstenAffiliated withSYKE, University of Oulu
  • , Jenica HanganuAffiliated withDDNI
  • , Agnieszka KoladaAffiliated withInstitute for Environmental Protection
  • , Marcel van den BergAffiliated withRijkswaterstaat RIZA
  • , Sandra PoikaneAffiliated withJoint Research Centre
  • , Geoff PhillipsAffiliated withEnvironment Agency for England and Wales
    • , Nigel WillbyAffiliated withUniversity of Stirling
    • , Frauke EckeAffiliated withLuleå University of Technology

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Aquatic macrophytes are one of the biological quality elements in the Water Framework Directive (WFD) for which status assessments must be defined. We tested two methods to classify macrophyte species and their response to eutrophication pressure: one based on percentiles of occurrence along a phosphorous gradient and another based on trophic ranking of species using Canonical Correspondence Analyses in the ranking procedure. The methods were tested at Europe-wide, regional and national scale as well as by alkalinity category, using 1,147 lakes from 12 European states. The grouping of species as sensitive, tolerant or indifferent to eutrophication was evaluated for some taxa, such as the sensitive Chara spp. and the large isoetids, by analysing the (non-linear) response curve along a phosphorous gradient. These thresholds revealed in these response curves can be used to set boundaries among different ecological status classes. In total 48 taxa out of 114 taxa were classified identically regardless of dataset or classification method. These taxa can be considered the most consistent and reliable indicators of sensitivity or tolerance to eutrophication at European scale. Although the general response of well known indicator species seems to hold, there are many species that were evaluated differently according to the database selection and classification methods. This hampers a Europe-wide comparison of classified species lists as used for the status assessment within the WFD implementation process.


Aquatic vegetation Indicators Species classification REBECCA EU Water Framework Directive