Vegetation abundance in lowland flood plain lakes determined by surface area, age and connectivity

G.J. van Geest, F.C.J.M. Roozen, H. Coops, R.M.M. Roijackers, A.D. Buijse, E.T.H.M. Peeters, M. Scheffer

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78 Citations (Scopus)


1. We analysed the vegetation structure of 215 lakes in the flood plain of the river Lower Rhine in relation to environmental variables related to hydrological connectivity, lake morphometry, lake age and land use on adjacent land. 2. The frequency distribution of the cover of submerged macrophytes was not normal, implying that submerged macrophytes in any one lake were either scarce or abundant. 3. We observed clear water lakes with submerged macrophyte dominance over a wide range of total P concentration (0.020-0.40 mg total P L-1). 4. Multiple logistic regression indicated that the probability of dominance by submerged macrophytes decreased markedly with the surface area, depth and age of the lakes. The surface area effect occurred independently of the depth. Further, there was a negative relationship between submerged macrophyte dominance and the long-term annual duration of inundation by the river. 5. Nymphaeid cover showed a distinct optimum with respect to mean lake depth, being almost absent in lakes shallower than 0.5 m. In contrast to what was found for submerged plants, the probability of occurrence of nymphaeids increased with lake age. 6. The probability of helophyte occurrence increased with lake age, and decreased with the presence of trees, cattle grazing, surface area, use of manure and mean lake depth. 7. In all cases the critical level of one factor (e.g. mean lake depth) depended on other factors (e.g. surface area or age of lake). Thus, in the present study, small lakes tended to remain dominated by submerged macrophytes up to a greater depth than large lakes, and helophytes colonised smaller lakes in an earlier phase. 8. The effect of inundation by the river was modest. This could be because most of our lakes are rarely inundated during the growing season and experience only moderate current velocities while flooded. 9. The results have practical implications for future management of flood plains for conservation purposes. In new water bodies, macrophyte domination will be promoted if many small shallow lakes, rather than few large deep ones, are excavated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)440-454
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • aquatic plants
  • hydrology
  • lakes
  • eutrophication
  • surface water
  • floodplains
  • netherlands
  • river rhine
  • fresh-water macrophytes
  • shallow eutrophic lakes
  • lucius l stocking
  • submerged macrophytes
  • biomanipulation tool
  • sediment composition
  • biomass
  • growth
  • depth
  • fish

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