Assessment of total phosphorus concentration as a predictor and determinant of fishery productivity in southern Appalachian reservoirs: application to Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Phosphorus is often the limiting nutrient of primary productivity in southern Appalachian reservoirs, but its impact on higher trophic levels has not been assessed. Regression analysis was used to examine the relationship between total phosphorus concentrations and estimates of fish standing stock in Smith Mountain Lake (SML) over time and for 22 southern Appalachian reservoirs (SAR) at the same time. ln SML, which had responded to a nutrient reduction program, total phosphorus concentration and fish biomass concurrently declined over an 12-year period; phosphorus concentration accounted for one-third (cove-specific) and two-thirds (whole-Iake) of the annual variation in fish standing stock. Total phosphorus concentration was also the best predictor of fish abundance in SARs, accounting for 84% of the variation in standing stock despite great diversity in reservoir physical, chemical, and biological characteristics. Predictive power was generally higher at lower levels of the food chain (i.e. planktivores, younger fish) than for piscivores. Planktivore response to phosphorus was found to be immediate. Piscivore biomass did not vary significantly with phosphorus, owing in part to poor energy transfer up the food chain and variable management practices. Phosphorus concentration and total fish standing stock appear to have stabilized in SML since 1980. Losses in fish standing stock due to deceased fertility in SML have been partly offset by an increase in coolwater habitat. Aesthetic versus fishery benefits and the complexity of dealing with a longitudinal trophic gradient need to be considered for future management of SML.