, Volume 656, Issue 1, pp 87–97 | Cite as

Assessing the condition of lake habitats: a test of methods for surveying aquatic macrophyte communities

  • Iain D. M. GunnEmail author
  • Matthew O’Hare
  • Laurence Carvalho
  • David B. Roy
  • Peter Rothery
  • Angela M. Darwell


The European Union requires member states to monitor the conservation status of water bodies designated under the Habitats and Species Directive. In the UK, macrophytes were identified as useful indicators of conservation status but it was recognised that sampling methods required assessment before nationwide survey work began. At eight lakes, which varied in size (0.9–2797 ha) and trophic status (oligotrophic–eutrophic), we tested a method which uses a combination of three techniques (boat transects, wader transects and perimeter strandline searches) to characterise repeat sectors (six or fewer). The combination of techniques used at a particular lake depended on the accessibility of each sector, the safety of applying the method, expediency and target flora. Species richness and abundance were recorded. By applying indicator metrics/rules to data produced by the method it was possible to categorise the conservation and trophic status of the lakes. Power analysis revealed that the data were statistically robust and could potentially be used to track significant, lake-specific changes in macrophyte flora through time. This analysis also revealed a decreasing return in statistical certainty with increased sampling effort (number of sectors sampled). Little additional certainty was added when more than 4 sectors were sampled per lake. The wader transects proved the most practical means of collecting quantitative data while perimeter surveys were an efficient means of adding useful supplementary semi-quantitative data. Boat surveys, although useful in some situations, particularly in assessing deeper water vegetation, were more time consuming than wader surveys. The potential applications and limitations of these methods are discussed and further tests suggested.


Condition assessment Lake habitats Macrophytes Methods testing 



We wish to thank Scottish Natural Heritage and English Nature for funding this work. We are also thank Nigel Willby, Nick Stewart, Max Wade and Mary Hennessy for their invaluable inputs into developing the survey methods at the Loch Leven workshop in June 2003. We are also grateful to Alex Kirika, Mitzi De Ville and Max Wade for their help with the fieldwork and to Ron Smith for his useful advice on statistical tests.


  1. Capers, R. S., 2000. A comparison of two sampling techniques in the study of submersed macrophyte richness and abundance. Aquatic Botany 68: 87–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. CBD, 2002. CBD/C0P6 Decision VI/26: Strategic Plan for the Convention on Biological Diversity.Google Scholar
  3. CEN, 2006. Water quality – guidance standard for the surveying of macrophytes in lakes. pr EN 15460.Google Scholar
  4. Croft, M. V. & P. Chow-Fraser, 2009. Non-random sampling and its role in habitat conservation: a comparison of three wetland macrophyte sampling protocols. Biodiversity and Conservation 18: 2283–2306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dennis, W. M. & B. G. Isom, 1984. Ecological Assessment of Macrophyton: Collection, Use, and Meaning of Data. American Society of Testing and Materials, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  6. Duigan, C., W. Kovach & M. Palmer, 2006. Vegetation Communities of British Lakes: A Revised Classification. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.Google Scholar
  7. European Commission, 1992. Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora. Official Journal of the European Communities L205, 5-50, Brussels.Google Scholar
  8. European Commission, 2001. Environment 2010: Our Future, Our Choice. 6th EU Environment Action Programme 2001–2010. Office for the Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.Google Scholar
  9. Gunn, I. D. M., L. Carvalho, A. M. Darwell, D. B. Roy, P. Rothery, P. M. Wade, N. F. Stewart, M. M. Dent, A Kirika, J. B. James, P. M. Hodgson & D. V. Abel, 2004. Site Condition Monitoring of Standing Waters Phase 1, Report 1: Aquatic Macrophyte Method Development. Unpublished Report to Scottish Natural Heritage.Google Scholar
  10. JNCC, 2009. Draft Common Standards Monitoring Guidance for Standing Waters. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.Google Scholar
  11. Lassiere, O., 1998. Botanical Survey of Scottish Freshwater Lochs: Methodology. Scottish Natural Heritage, Draft Report.Google Scholar
  12. Nichols, S. A., 1984. Quantitative methods for assessing macrophyte vegetation. In Dennis, W. M. & B. G. Isom (eds), Ecological Assessment of Macrophyton: Collection, Use, and Meaning of Data. American Society for Testing and Materials, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  13. Palmer, M. A., S. L. Bell & I. Butterfield, 1992. A botanical classification of standing waters in Britain: applications for conservation and monitoring. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 2: 125–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Parr, T. W., D. T. Monteith & M. Gibson, 1999. Aquatic macrophytes. In Sykes, J. M., A. M. J. Lane & D. G. George (eds), The United Kingdom Environmental Change Network: Protocols for Standard Measurements at Freshwater Sites. Natural Environment Research Council, Abbots Ripton, Huntingdon.Google Scholar
  15. Raschke, R. L. & P. C. Rusanowski, 1984. Aquatic macrophyton field collection methods and laboratory analyses. In Dennis, W. M. & B. G. Isom (eds), Ecological Assessment of Macrophyton: Collection, Use, and Meaning of Data. American Society for Testing and Materials, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  16. Ratcliffe, D. A., 1977. A Nature Conservation Review. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  17. Spence, D. H. N., 1982. The zonation of plants in freshwater lakes. Advances in Ecological Research 2: 37–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Wade, P. M. & R. Bowles, 1981. A comparison of the efficiency of freshwater macrophyte surveys carried out from underwater with those from the shore or a boat. Progress in Underwater Science 6: 7–11.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Iain D. M. Gunn
    • 1
    Email author
  • Matthew O’Hare
    • 1
  • Laurence Carvalho
    • 1
  • David B. Roy
    • 2
  • Peter Rothery
    • 2
  • Angela M. Darwell
    • 3
  1. 1.Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Edinburgh, Bush EstateMidlothianScotland, UK
  2. 2.Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, WallingfordWallingordUK
  3. 3.Darwell Associates LimitedPenrithUK

Personalised recommendations