Inland Waters, Vol 6, No 4 (2016)

Changes in water temperature and chemistry preceding a massive kill of bottom-dwelling fish: an analysis of high–frequency buoy data of shallow Lake Võrtsjärv (Estonia)

Külli Kangur, Kai Ginter, Peeter Kangur, Andu Kangur, Peeter Nõges, Alo Laas
Pages: 535542


Although massive fish kills are wide-spread and can be economically devastating, there is little information on exact causal mechanisms of fish kills in nature. In large shallow Lake Võrtsjärv, sporadic fish kills have been registered mainly in cold winters, yet in 2013, an unexpected fish kill occurred beginning mid-June. At the time of the fish kill, an investigation was conducted to determine species composition, number, and sizes of dead fish along the lake shore. To determine possible causes of the fish kill, we analysed the dynamics of key physical and chemical parameters of lake water, including diurnal fluctuations of water temperature (WT), pH, dissolved oxygen (DO), ammonium ion concentrations (NH4-N), and the development of water stratification, during the growing season of 2013 using high-frequency water quality monitoring buoy and monthly manual monitoring data. Environmental data between 2010 and 2012 were used as a reference because no fish kill occurred. The results suggest that the fish kill was induced by a combination of successive and co-occurring extreme water parameters such as high WT (up to 24.5 °C), pH (up to 9.2), and NH4-N (up to 0.13 mg L−1), short-term stratification, and low DO concentration in the bottom water (0.49 mg L−1, saturation 5.4%) induced by quick warming of this shallow lake after a long ice-covered period and leading to a likely ammonia poisoning and hypoxia. The main target species was the bottom-dwelling ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernuus), indicating that the summer kill started at the bottom of the lake. The event highlights the significance of short-term disturbances on fish populations, which can be detected only using high-frequency monitoring data.
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