The Effects of Hypoxia on Zooplankton Communities in Lakes and Reservoirs

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Virginia Tech


Global change is altering the community composition, variability, and behavior of organisms in a diverse suite of ecosystems. Because of climate change and eutrophication, freshwater lakes and reservoirs are experiencing an increase in low dissolved oxygen concentrations (hypoxia) in their bottom waters (hypolimnion), which can disrupt ecological communities. Zooplankton, important aquatic organisms for regulating water quality and food webs, are one group of organisms affected by hypoxia since zooplankton need oxygen to respire.

My research shows that hypoxia may disrupt zooplankton behavior and increase the variability of zooplankton communities. Zooplankton ubiquitously exhibit diel vertical migration, where the majority of the population resides in the hypolimnion during the daytime to escape predation from fish and damage from ultraviolet radiation. At night, many zooplankton ascend to the surface waters to feed on phytoplankton, when there is decreased risk of predation and radiation.

My results from intensive 24-hour sampling campaigns suggest that hypolimnetic hypoxia may alter zooplankton migration, biomass, and behavior, which may in turn exacerbate water quality degradation due to the critical role zooplankton play in freshwater ecosystems. In addition, field surveys in four reservoirs over three years revealed that hypoxia may increase the variability of zooplankton communities compared to oxic conditions. Consequently, as lakes and reservoirs experience increased extent and duration of hypoxia in the future, it is critical to understand how more variable zooplankton communities alter freshwater ecosystem functioning.



climate change, community ecology, eutrophication, global change, plankton ecology, Water quality