The fish kill in lake Peipsi (Estonia/Russia) during the extraordinarily hot summer of 2010 evoked an investigation into the effects of environmental extremes and long-term eutrophication on the fish community of the lake. Current data on lake Peipsi indicate that temperature extremes and synergistic interactions with eutrophication have led to a radical restructuring of the fish community. Commercial landings of lake smelt, Osmerus eperlanus eperlanus m. spirinchus (Pallas), the previous dominant species of the fish community, have decreased dramatically since the 1930s, these declines being coupled with summer heat waves coinciding with low water levels. Gradual decline in smelt stock and catches was significantly related to a decline of near-bottom oxygen conditions and to a decrease in water transparency. The first documented fish kill in 1959 occurred only in the southern, most shallow and eutrophic lake (lake Pihkva). Recently, summer fish kill have become more frequent, involving larger areas of the lake. In addition to the cold-water species, e.g. smelt and vendace Coregonus albula (L.), the abundance of bottom-dwelling fishes such as ruffe Gymnocephalus cernuus (L.) and juvenile fish have significantly decreased after the 2010 heat wave probably due to hypoxia and warm water temperatures. This study showed that fish community structure in large shallow lakes may be very vulnerable to water temperature increases, especially temperature extremes in combination with eutrophication.
climate change, eutrophication, key fish species, heat waves, large shallow lake, summer fish kills