Impacts of climate warming on the long-term dynamics of key fish species in 24 European lakes

Abstract

Fish play a key role in the trophic dynamics of lakes. With climate warming, complex changes in fish assemblage structure may be expected owing to direct effects of temperature and indirect effects operating through eutrophication, water level changes, stratification and salinisation. We reviewed published and new long-term (10–100 years) fish data series from 24 European lakes (area: 0.04–5,648 km2; mean depth: 1–177 m; a north–south gradient from Sweden to Spain). Along with an annual temperature increase of about 0.15–0.3°C per decade profound changes have occurred in either fish assemblage composition, body size and/or age structure during recent decades and a shift towards higher dominance of eurythermal species. These shifts have occurred despite a reduction in nutrient loading in many of the lakes that should have benefited the larger-sized individuals and the fish species typically inhabiting cold-water, low-nutrient lakes. The cold-stenothermic Arctic charr has been particularly affected and its abundance has decreased in the majority of the lakes where its presence was recorded. The harvest of cool-stenothermal brown trout has decreased substantially in two southern lakes. Vendace, whitefish and smelt show a different response depending on lake depth and latitude. Perch has apparently been stimulated in the north, with stronger year classes in warm years, but its abundance has declined in the southern Lake Maggiore, Italy. Where introduced, roach seems to take advantage of the higher temperature after years of low population densities. Eurythermal species such as common bream, pike–perch and/or shad are apparently on the increase in several of the lakes. The response of fish to the warming has been surprisingly strong and fast in recent decades, making them ideal sentinels for detecting and documenting climate-induced modifications of freshwater ecosystems.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank A.M. Poulsen for editing the manuscript and Juana Jacobsen and Tinna Christensen for graphical assistance. This project was supported by the EU FP-7 Theme 6 projects WISER (Water bodies in Europe: Integrative Systems to assess Ecological Status and Recovery, Contract No.: 226273) and REFRESH (Adaptive strategies to Mitigate the Impacts of Climate Change on European Freshwater Ecosystems, Contract No.: 244121), ‘CLEAR’ (a Villum Kann Rasmussen Centre of Excellence project) and CIRCE. The study was further supported by the Research Council for Nature and Universe (272-08-0406), the STF project CRES and the Greenland Climate Research Centre, the Estonian target funding project SF 0170006s08, the German Research Foundation (DFG, projects Me 1686/5-1, 5-2, 5-3), and CIPAIS (International Commission for the protection of Italian-Swiss waters) and CISPP (Italian-Swiss Commission for the Fishery). We are grateful to the Cofradía de Pescadores del Palmar (Valencia, Spain), Conselleria de Medio Ambiente de Valencia and AEMET for providing, respectively, fish capture data and chemical and meteorological data from Lake Albufera.

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Correspondence to Erik Jeppesen.

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We dedicate this paper to the late Prof. Jürgen Benndorf, a true pioneer and mentor in lake and reservoir management oriented research, who inspired a number of us to initiate long-term comprehensive experimental ecological studies on lakes and reservoirs.

Handling editor: P. Nõges

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Jeppesen, E., Mehner, T., Winfield, I.J. et al. Impacts of climate warming on the long-term dynamics of key fish species in 24 European lakes. Hydrobiologia 694, 1–39 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-012-1182-1

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Fish assemblages
  • Functional traits
  • Long-term data series
  • Europe