The Nile pp 163-192 | Cite as

Lake Tana: Source of the Blue Nile

  • Jacobus Vijverberg
  • Ferdinand A. Sibbing
  • Eshete Dejen
Part of the Monographiae Biologicae book series (MOBI, volume 89)

At 1,830 m altitude, Lake Tana is situated on the basaltic Plateau of the north-western highlands of Ethiopia covering an area of ca 3,050 km2. It is poor in nutrients and the source of the Blue Nile River (Great Abbay), with a catchment area of ca 16,500 km2. The Lake has been formed by volcanic activity, blocking the course of inflowing rivers in the early Pleistocene times ca 5 million years ago. The lava also separated the Lake and its headwaters from the lower Blue Nile basin by 40 m high falls at Tissisat, 30 km downstream from the Blue Nile outflow. Terraces suggest that the Lake was originally much larger than it is today. Seven large permanent rivers feed the lake as well as ca 40 small seasonal rivers. The main tributaries to the lake are Gilgel Abbay (Little Nile River), Megech River, Gumara River and the Rib River. Together they contribute more than 95% of the total annual inflow. The Blue Nile is the only outflowing river. The shallow lake (average depth 8 m, max. depth 14 m) is Ethiopia's largest lake, containing half the country's freshwater resources, and the third largest in the Nile Basin. In the main rainy season (July—August) the inflowing rivers carry heavy load of suspended silt into the lake, thereby increasing the turbidity of the lake water. The suspended sediments reduce the under water light intensity and as such the primary production, the basis of the food web. The fish community of the Lake is dominated by cyprinid fishes, 20 of the 27 fish species (e.g. Labeobarbus spp., Barbus spp., Garra spp.) are endemics to the Lake catchment. This speciation was possible because the incipient Lake offered new habitats for adaptive radiation and maintained its isolation for millions of years from the lower Blue Nile. Wetlands are located all around the lake, with the exception of the Northeast. Together they are the largest in the country and integral parts of the complex Tana-ecosystem. They consist of permanent swamps, seasonal swamps, and areas subjected to regular inundation. During the raining period these wetlands are connected with the lake. They act as nurseries for most of the fish populations in the lake, and serve as breeding ground for water fowl and mammals. Around the lake and its catchment, including the town of Bahir Dar, live about 2 million people. This lake and adjacent wetlands provide directly and indirectly a livelihood for more than 500,000 people. The Blue Nile drains the NE Ethiopian Plateau (total catchment: 324,000 km2). Already in ancient Egypt civilization this river was of key importance to early agriculture and today the river is still of critical importance for the economies of Sudan and Egypt.


Nile Tilapia African Catfish Nile Basin Clarias Gariepinus Species Flock 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abu Gideiri, Y. B., 1967. Fishes of the Blue Nile between Khartoum and Roseires. Revue de Zoologie et Botanique Africaine 76: 345–348.Google Scholar
  2. Allan, J. A., 2009. Nile Basin asymmetries: a closed freshwater resource, soil water potential, the political economy and Nile transboundary hydropolitics. In H. J. Dumont (ed.), The Nile. Origin environments, limnology and human use. Monographiae Biologicae, Springer. Heidelberg, Germany.Google Scholar
  3. Anonymous, 2003. Reconnaissance survey on the river fisheries of Benishangul—Gumuz regional state. Report National Fisheries and Other Living Aquatic Resources Research Center (NFLARR/EARO), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.Google Scholar
  4. Bacci, G., 1951–1952. Components of the malacofauna of Abissynia and Somalia (in Italian). Annali di Museo Civico di Storia Naturale Giacomo Doria 65: 1–44.Google Scholar
  5. Banister, K. E., 1973. A revision of the large Barbus (Pisces, Cyprinidae) of East and Central Africa Studies on African Cyprinidae, part 2. Bulletin of the British Museum of Natural History (Zoology) 26: 1–148.Google Scholar
  6. Berie, Z., 2007. Diversity, abundance and biology of fishes from Beles and Gilgel Beles Rivers, Abbay basin Ethiopia. Unpublished M.Sc. thesis, Department of Biology, Addis Ababa University.Google Scholar
  7. Brunelli, G. & G. Cannicci, 1940. The biological characteristics of Lake Tana. Missione di studio al Lago Tana (in Italian). Ricerche limnologiche B. Chimica e Biologia. Reale Accademia d'Italia 3: 71–116.Google Scholar
  8. Conway, D., 2000. The climate and hydrology of the upper Blue Nile River. The Geographical Journal 166: 49–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cumberlidge, N., 2009. Freshwater crabs and shrimps (Crustacea: Decapoda) of the Nile Basin. In H. J. Dumont (ed.), The Nile. Origin environments limnology and human ure. Monographiae Biologicae, Springer. Heidelberg, Germany.Google Scholar
  10. de Graaf, M., E. Dejen, F. A. Sibbing & J. W. M. Osse, 2000. Barbus tanapelagius, a new species from Lake Tana (Ethiopia): its morphology and ecology. Environmental Biology of Fishes 59: 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. de Graaf, M., E. Dejen, J. W. M Osse & F. A. Sibbing, 2003a. Ecological differentiation among the eight piscivores within the Barbus species flock (Pisces, Cyprinidae) of Lake Tana, Ethiopia. In M. de Graaf, Lake Tana's piscivorous Barbus (Cyprinidae, Ethiopia); ecology — evolution — exploitation. Ph. D. thesis, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, pp. 51–81.Google Scholar
  12. de Graaf, M., G. H. van de Weerd, J. W. M. Osse & F. A. Sibbing, 2003b. Feeding performance and predation techniques among segregating piscivores in Lake Tana's Barbus species flock (Cyprinidae; East-Africa). In M. de Graaf, Lake Tana's piscivorous Barbus (Cyprinidae, Ethiopia); ecology — evolution — exploitation. Ph. D. thesis, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, pp. 83–107.Google Scholar
  13. de Graaf, M., J. Samallo & H. J. Megens, 2003c. Rapid speciation of Lake Tana's Barbus (Cyprinidae; East-Africa) as inferred from mtDNA markers. In M. de Graaf, Lake Tana's piscivorous Barbus (Cyprinidae, Ethiopia); ecology — evolution — exploitation. Ph. D. thesis, Wageningen Institute of Animal Sciences, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, pp. 167–179.Google Scholar
  14. de Graaf, M., M. A. M. Machiels, T. Wudneh & F. A. Sibbing, 2004. Declining stocks of Lake Tana's endemic Barbus species flock (Pisces; Cyprinidae): natural variation or human impact? Biological Conservation 116: 277–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. de Graaf, M., E. D. Nentwich, J. W. M. Osse & F. A. Sibbing, 2005. Lacustrine spawning: is this a new reproductive strategy among ‘large’ African cyprinid fishes? Journal of Fish Biology 66: 1214–1236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. de Graaf, M., P. A. M. van Zwieten, M. A. M. Machiels, E. Lemma, T. Wudneh, E. Dejen & F. A. Sibbing, 2006. Vulnerability to a small-scale commercial fishery of Lake Tana's (Ethiopia) endemic Labeobarbus compared with African catfish and Nile tilapia: An example of recruitment-overfishing? Fisheries Research 82: 304–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. de Graaf, M., H.-J. Megens, J. Samallo & F. A. Sibbing, 2007. Evolutionary origin of Lake Tana's (Ethiopia) small Barbus species: indications of rapid ecological divergence and speciation. Animal Biology 57: 39–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. de Graaf, M., E. Dejen, J. W. M. Osse & F. A. Sibbing, 2008. Adaptive radiation of Lake Tana's (Ethiopia) Labeobarbus species flock (Pisces, Cyprinidae). Marine and Freshwater research 59: 391–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dejen, E., F. A. Sibbing & J. Vijverberg, 2003. The reproductive biology of two ‘small barbs’ (Barbus humilis and B. tanapelagius: Cyprinidae) in Lake Tana, Ethiopia. Netherlands Journal of Zoology 52: 281–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dejen, E., J. Vijverberg, L. A. J. Nagelkerke & F. A. Sibbing, 2004. Temporal and spatial distribution of microcrustacean zooplankton in relation to turbidity and other environmental factors in a large tropical lake (L. Tana, Ethiopia). Hydrobiologia 513: 39–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dejen, E., J. Vijverberg, M. de Graaf & F. A. Sibbing. 2006a. Predicting and testing resource partitioning in a tropical fish assemblage of zooplanktivorous ‘barbs’: an ecomorphological approach. Journal of Fish Biology 69: 1356–1378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dejen, E., J. Vijverberg & F. A. Sibbing. 2006b. Spatial and temporal variation of cestode infection and its effects on two small barbs (Barbus humilis and B. tanapelagius) in Lake Tana, Ethiopia. Hydrobiologia 556: 109–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dejen, E. (ed.), M. de Graaf, L. A. L. Nagelkerke, T. Wudneh, J. W. M. Osse & F. A. Sibbing, 2006c. Lake Tana fishery and its sustainable development (in Amharic). Amhara Region Agricultural Research Institute & Department of Animal Sciences and Wageningen University. Tis Abay Printing Press, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia: 84 pp.Google Scholar
  24. Dejen, E., J. Vijverberg, L. A. J. Nagelkerke & F. A. Sibbing, submitted. Growth, biomass and production of two small barbs (Barbus humilis and B. tanapelagius, Cyprinidae, and their role in the food web of Lake Tana) (Ethiopia).Google Scholar
  25. Dgebuadze, Y. Y., A. S. Golubtsov, V. N. Mikheev & M. V. Mina, 1994. Four fish species new to the Omo-Turkana basin, with comments on the distribution of Nemacheilus abyssinicus (Cypriniformes: Balitoridae) in Ethiopia. Hydrobiologia 286: 125–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dixon, B., L. A. J. Nagelkerke, F. A. Sibbing, E. Egberts & R. J. M. Stet, 1996. Evolution of MHC class II β chain-encoding genes in the Lake Tana barb species flock (Barbus intermedius complex). Immunogenetics 44: 419–431.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Dumont, H. J., 1983. Dragonflies from the Ethiopian Plateau and from Lake Tana. Notulae odo-natologicae 2: 10–11.Google Scholar
  28. Dumont, H. J., 1986a. Zooplankton of the Nile system. In B. R. Davies & K. F. Walker (eds), The Ecology of River Systems. Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp. 75–88.Google Scholar
  29. Dumont, H. J., 1986b. The Nile River system. In B. R. Davies & K. F. Walker (eds), The Ecology of River Systems. Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp. 61–74.Google Scholar
  30. Dumont, H. J., 2009. The Cnidaria of the Nile Basin. In H. J. Dumont (ed.), The Nile. Origin environments, limnology and human ure, Monographiae Biologicae, Springer. Dordrecht. Vol. 89: 495–498.Google Scholar
  31. Flössner, D., 2000. Daphnia hyalina Leydig 1860. In D. Flössner, Die Haplopoda und Cladocera (Ohne Bosminidae) Mitteleuropas. Backhuys, Leiden, pp. 177–182.Google Scholar
  32. Frances, I. & S. Aynalem, 2007. Bird surveys around Bahir Dar-Lake Tana IBA. Filed Report, RSPB International Division, UK, 91 pp.Google Scholar
  33. Gasse, F., 1987. Ethiopie and Djibouti (in French). In African wetlands and shallow water bodies. In M. J. Burgis & J. J. Symoens (eds), Travaux et Documents/ Institut Francais de Recherche Scientifique pour le Development en cooperation no. 211 Paris, ORSTOM, 300–311.Google Scholar
  34. Green, J., 2009. Birds of the Nile. In H. J. Dumont (ed.), The Nile. Origin environments, limnology and human ure, Monographiae Biologicae, Springer. Dordrecht. Vol. 89: 705–720.Google Scholar
  35. Hammerton, D., 1972. The River Nile, a case history. In R. T. Oglesby, C. A. Carlson & J. A. McCann (eds), River Ecology and Man. Academic, New York, London, pp. 171–214.Google Scholar
  36. Hammerton, D., 1976. The Blue Nile in the plains. In J. Rzóska (ed.), The Nile, Biology of an Ancient River. Junk, The Hague, pp. 243–256.Google Scholar
  37. Howell, P. P. & P. Allan, 1994. The Nile: Sharing a Scarce Resource. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.Google Scholar
  38. Johnson, T. C., C. A. Scholz, M. R. Talbot, K. Kelts, R. D. Ricketts, G. Ngobi, K. Beuning, I. Semmanda & J. W. McGill, 1996. Late Pleistocene desiccation of Lake Victoria and rapid evolution of cichlid fishes. Science 273: 1091–1093.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kindie, A., 2001. Wetlandss distribution in Amhara region, their importance and current threats. In A. B. Dixon, A. Hailu & A. P. Wood (eds), Proceedings of the Wetland Awareness Creation and Activity Identification Workshop in Amhara National Regional State. January 23rd 2001 Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, pp. 14–17.Google Scholar
  40. Kruiswijk, C. P., T. Hermsen, J. van Heerwaarden, B. Dixon, H. F. J. Savelkoul & R. J. M. Stet, 2005. Major histocompatibility genes in the Lake Tana African large barb species flock: evidence for complete partitioning of class II B, but not class I, genes among different species. Immunogenetics 56: 894–908.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lamb, H. F., C. R. Bates, P. V. Coombes, M. H. Marschall, M. Umer, S. J. Davies & E. Dejen, 2007. Late Pleistocene dessication of Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile. Quaternary Research 26: 287–299.Google Scholar
  42. Mina, M. V., A. N. Mironovsky & Y. Y. Dgebuadze, 1996. Lake Tana large barbs: phenetics, growth and diversification. Journal of Fish Biology 48: 383–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mishrigi, S. Y., 1970. Fishes of Lake Roseires on the Blue Nile. Revue de Zoologie et Botanique Africaine 82: 193–197.Google Scholar
  44. Mohr, P. A., 1962. The Geology of Ethiopia. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. University College of Addis Ababa Press.Google Scholar
  45. Molla, M. & T. Menelik, 2004. Environmental impact assessment for unusual reduced water level of Lake Tana. In Proceedings of the Symposium on Lake Tana Watershed Management. Lake Net, USA: 35–48.Google Scholar
  46. Morris, P., M. J. Largen & D. W. Yalden, 1976. Notes on the biogeography of the Blue Nile (Great Abbai) Gorge in Ethiopia. In J. Rzóska (ed.), The Nile, Biology of an Ancient River. Junk, The Hague, pp. 233–242.Google Scholar
  47. Muluneh, A. A., 2005. Ecological importance of aquatic macrophytes in the Southern part of Lake Tana. Report of the Amhara National Region Rehabilitation Development Organisation (TIRET). Nagelkerke, L. A. J., 1997. The barbs of Lake Tana, Ethiopia: morphological diversity and its implications for taxonomy, trophic resource partitioning and fisheries. Ph. D. thesis, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, 296 ppGoogle Scholar
  48. Nagelkerke, L. A. J. & F. A. Sibbing, 1996. Reproductive segregation among the Barbus intermedius complex of Lake Tana, Ethiopia. An example of intralacustrine speciation? Journal of Fish Biology 49: 1244–1266.Google Scholar
  49. Nagelkerke, L. A. J. & F. A. Sibbing, 2000. The large barbs (Barbus spp., Cyprinidae, Teleostei) of Lake Tana (Ethiopia), with a description of a new species, Barbus osseensis. Netherlands Journal of Zoology 50: 179–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Nagelkerke, L. A. J., F. A. Sibbing, J. G. M. van den Boogaart, E. H. R. R. Lammens & J. W. M. Osse, 1994. The barbs (Barbus spp.) of Lake Tana: a forgotten species flock? Environmental Biology of Fishes 39: 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Palstra, A. P., M. de Graaf & F. A. Sibbing, 2004. Riverine spawning and reproductive segregation in a lacustrine cyprinid species flock, facilitated by homing? Animal Biology 54: 393–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Pitcher, T. J., 1995. Thinking the unthinkable: a candidate model for predicting sustainable yields of introduced fish species in African lakes. In T. J. Pitcher & P. J. B. Hart (eds), The Impact of Species Changes in African Lakes. Chapman & Hall, London, pp. 495–525.Google Scholar
  53. Rzóska, J., 1976a. Lake Tana, headwaters of the Blue Nile. In J. Rzóska (ed.), The Nile, Biology of an Ancient River. Junk, The Hague, pp. 223–232.Google Scholar
  54. Rzóska, J., 1976b. The Blue Nile System. In J. Rzóska (ed.), The Nile, Biology of an Ancient River. Junk, The Hague, pp. 219–221.Google Scholar
  55. Rzóska, J., 1976c. Notes on the benthos of the Nile system. In J. Rzóska (ed.), The Nile, Biology of an Ancient River. Junk, The Hague, pp. 345–351.Google Scholar
  56. Schwenk, K., D. Posada & P. D. N. Hebert, 2000. Molecular systematics of European Hyalodaphnia: the role of contemporary hybridisation in ancient species. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 267: 1833–1842.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sibbing, F. A. & L. A. J. Nagelkerke, 2001. Resource partitioning by Lake Tana barbs predicted from fish morphometrics and prey characteristics. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 10: 393–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sibbing, F. A., L. A. J. Nagelkerke, R. J. M. Stet & J. W. M. Osse, 1998. Speciation of endemic Lake Tana barbs (Cyprinidae, Ethiopia) driven by trophic resource partitioning: a molecular and ecomorphological approach. Aquatic Ecology 32: 217–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Stiassny, M. L. J. & A. Getahun, 2007. An overview of labeonin relationships and the phylogenetic placement of the Afro-Asian genus Garra Hamilton, 1922 (Teleostei: Cyprinidae), with the description of five new species of Garra from Ethiopia, and a key to all African species. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 150: 41–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Talling, J. F., 1976. Phytoplankton: composition, development and productivity. In J. Rzóska (ed.), The Nile, Biology of an Ancient River. Junk, The Hague, pp. 385–402. (see also this volume pp. 431–463)Google Scholar
  61. Talling, J. F. & J. Rzóska, 1967. The development of plankton in relation to the hydrological regime in the Blue Nile. Journal of Ecology 55: 637–662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Teshale, B., 2003. Influence of sediment on physico-chemical properties of Lake Tana. Workshop ‘Fish and Fisheries of Lake Tana: Management and Conservation’. 6–8 October 2003, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.Google Scholar
  63. Teshale, B., R. Lee & G. Zawdie, 2001. Development initiatives and challenges for sustainable resource management and livelihood in the Lake Tana region of Northern Ethiopia. In A. B. Dixon, A. Hailu & A. P. Wood (eds), Proceedings of the Wetland Awareness Creation and Activity Identification Workshop in Amhara National Regional State. January 23rd 2001, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia, 33–43.Google Scholar
  64. Tewabe, D., S. Muhammed & B. Abdissa, 2005. Distribution and abundance of macro-benthic and weed-based faunas in the northern part of Lake Tana. Internal Report ARARI, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, 14 pp.Google Scholar
  65. Thiel, H., 1973. Limnocnida indica in Africa. Publications Seto marine Biology Laboratory 20: 73–79.Google Scholar
  66. van Perlo, B., 1995. Birds of Eastern Africa. Collins' Illustrated Checklist. Harper & Collins, London, 301 pp.Google Scholar
  67. Witte, F., M. de Graaf, O. Mkumbo, A.I. El-Moghraby & F.A. Sibbing, 2009. Fisheries in the Nile system. In H. J. Dumont (ed.), The Nile: Monographiae Biological Springer, Dordrecht. Vol. 89: 723–747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wondie, A. & S. Mengistu, 2006. Duration of development, biomass and rate of production of the dominant copepods (Calanoid and cyclopoida) in Lake Tana, Ethiopia. SINET: Ethiopian Journal of Science 29: 107–122.Google Scholar
  69. Wondie, A., S. Mengistu, J. Vijverberg & E. Dejen, 2007. Seasonal variation in primary production of a large high altitude tropical lake (Lake Tana, Ethiopia): effects of nutrient availability and water transparency. Aquatic Ecology 41: 195–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Wudneh, T., 1998. Biology and management of fish stocks in Bahir Dar Gulf, Ethiopia. Ph. D. thesis, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, 143 pp.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jacobus Vijverberg
    • 1
  • Ferdinand A. Sibbing
    • 2
  • Eshete Dejen
    • 3
  1. 1.Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), Centre for LimnologyNieuwersluisThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Experimental Zoology GroupWageningen Institute of Animal SciencesWageningenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Fishery and Other Aquatic Life Research CenterBahir DarEthiopia

Personalised recommendations