Trophic state index

Trophic State Index (TSI) is a classification system designed to rate bodies of water based on the amount of biological activity they sustain.[1] Although the term "trophic index" is commonly applied to lakes, any surface body of water may be indexed.

The TSI of a body of water is rated on a scale from zero to one hundred.[1] Under the TSI scale, bodies of water may be defined as:[1]

  • oligotrophic (TSI 0–40, having the least amount of biological productivity, "good" water quality);
  • mesoeutrophic (TSI 40–60, having a moderate level of biological activity, "fair" water quality); or
  • eutrophic to hypereutrophic (TSI 60–100, having the highest amount of biological activity, "poor" water quality).

The quantities of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other biologically useful nutrients are the primary determinants of a body of water's TSI. Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus tend to be limiting resources in standing water bodies, so increased concentrations tend to result in increased plant growth, followed by corollary increases in subsequent trophic levels.[a] Consequently, a body of water's trophic index may sometimes be used to make a rough estimate of its biological condition.[2]

Carlson's Trophic State Index

Carlson's index was proposed by Robert Carlson in his 1977 seminal paper, "A trophic state index for lakes".[3] It is one of the more commonly used trophic indices and is the trophic index used by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.[2] The trophic state is defined as the total weight of biomass in a given water body at the time of measurement. Because they are of public concern, the Carlson index uses the algal biomass as an objective classifier of a lake or other water body's trophic status.[3] According to the US EPA, the Carlson Index should only be used with lakes that have relatively few rooted plants and non-algal turbidity sources.[2]

Index variable

Because they tend to correlate, three independent variables can be used to calculate the Carlson Index: chlorophyll pigments, total phosphorus and Secchi depth. Of these three, chlorophyll will probably yield the most accurate measures, as it is the most accurate predictor of biomass. Phosphorus may be a more accurate estimation of a water body's summer trophic status than chlorophyll if the measurements are made during the winter. Finally, the Secchi depth is probably the least accurate measure, but also the most affordable and expedient one. Consequently, citizen monitoring programs and other volunteer or large-scale surveys will often use the Secchi depth. By translating the Secchi transparency values to a log base 2 scale, each successive doubling of biomass is represented as a whole integer index number.[4] The Secchi depth, which measures water transparency, indicates the concentration of dissolved and particulate material in the water, which in turn can be used to derive the biomass. This relationship is expressed in the following equation:

where z = the depth at which the disk disappears,
I0 is the intensity of light striking the water's surface,
Iz is about 10% of I0 and is considered a constant,
kw is a coefficient for the attenuation of light by water and dissolved substances,
α is treated as a constant with the units of square meters per milligram and
C is the concentration of particulate matter in units for milligrams per cubic meter.[3]

Trophic classifications

A lake is usually classified as being in one of three possible classes: oligotrophic, mesotrophic or eutrophic. Lakes with extreme trophic indices may also be considered hyperoligotrophic or hypereutrophic. The table below demonstrates how the index values translate into trophic classes.

TSI Chl P SD Trophic Class
< 30—40 0—2.6 0—12 > 8—4 Oligotrophic
40—50 2.6—20 12—24 4—2 Mesotrophic
50—70 20—56 24—96 2—0.5 Eutrophic
70—100+ 56—155+ 96—384+ 0.5— < 0.25 Hypereutrophic
Relationships between Trophic State Index (TSI), chlorophyll (Chl), phosphorus (P, both micrograms per litre), Secchi depth (SD, metres), and Trophic Class (after Carlson 1996)[4]

Oligotrophic lakes generally host very little or no aquatic vegetation and are relatively clear, while eutrophic lakes tend to host large quantities of organisms, including algal blooms. Each trophic class supports different types of fish and other organisms, as well. If the algal biomass in a lake or other water body reaches too high a concentration (say >80 TSI), massive fish die-offs may occur as decomposing biomass deoxygenates the water.


20161001 Kurtkowiec i Czerwone Stawy Gąsienicowe 1730
Kurtkowiec Lake, an oligotrophic lake in the Tatra Mountains of southern Poland

An oligotrophic lake is a lake with low primary productivity, as a result of low nutrient content. These lakes have low algal production, and consequently, often have very clear waters, with high drinking-water quality. The bottom waters of such lakes typically have ample oxygen; thus, such lakes often support many fish species such as lake trout, which require cold, well-oxygenated waters. The oxygen content is likely to be higher in deep lakes, owing to their larger hypolimnetic volume.

Ecologists use the term oligotrophic to distinguish unproductive lakes, characterised by nutrient deficiency, from productive, eutrophic lakes, with an ample or excessive nutrient supply. Oligotrophic lakes are most common in cold regions underlain by resistant igneous rocks (especially granitic bedrock).


Mesotrophic lakes are lakes with an intermediate level of productivity. These lakes are commonly clear water lakes and ponds with beds of submerged aquatic plants and medium levels of nutrients.

The term mesotrophic is also applied to terrestrial habitats. Mesotrophic soils have moderate nutrient levels.


River algae Sichuan
Algal bloom in a village river in the mountains near Chengdu, Sichuan, China

A eutrophic body of water, commonly a lake or pond, has high biological productivity. Due to excessive nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, these water bodies are able to support an abundance of aquatic plants. Usually, the water body will be dominated either by aquatic plants or algae. When aquatic plants dominate, the water tends to be clear. When algae dominate, the water tends to be darker. The algae engage in photosynthesis which supplies oxygen to the fish and biota which inhabit these waters. Occasionally, an excessive algal bloom will occur and can ultimately result in fish death, due to respiration by algae and bottom-living bacteria. The process of eutrophication can occur naturally and by human impact on the environment.

Eutrophic comes from the Greek eutrophos meaning "well-nourished", from eu meaning good and trephein meaning "to nourish".[5]


Hypereutrophic lakes are very nutrient-rich lakes characterized by frequent and severe nuisance algal blooms and low transparency. Hypereutrophic lakes have a visibility depth of less than 3 feet, they have greater than 40 micrograms/litre total chlorophyll and greater than 100 micrograms/litre phosphorus.

The excessive algal blooms can also significantly reduce oxygen levels and prevent life from functioning at lower depths creating dead zones beneath the surface.

Likewise, large algal blooms can cause biodilution to occur, which is a decrease in the concentration of a pollutant with an increase in trophic level. This is opposed to biomagnification and is due to a decreased concentration from increased algal uptake.

Trophic index drivers

Both natural and anthropogenic factors can influence a lake or other water body's trophic index. A water body situated in a nutrient-rich region with high net primary productivity may be naturally eutrophic. Nutrients carried into water bodies from non-point sources such as agricultural runoff, residential fertilisers, and sewage will all increase the algal biomass, and can easily cause an oligotrophic lake to become hypereutrophic.

Management targets

Often, the desired trophic index differs between stakeholders. Water-fowl enthusiasts (e.g. duck hunters) may want a lake to be eutrophic so that it will support a large population of waterfowl. Residents, though, may want the same lake to be oligotrophic, as this is more pleasant for swimming and boating. Natural resource agencies are generally responsible for reconciling these conflicting uses and determining what a water body's trophic index should be.

See also


  1. ^ Note that this use of trophic levels refers to feeding dynamics, and has a much different meaning than a body of water's trophic index.


  1. ^ a b c University of Southern Florida Water Institute. "Trophic State Index (TSI)". Learn More About Trophic State Index (TSI) - University of Southern Florida. Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  2. ^ a b c United States Environmental Protection Agency (2007) Carlson's Trophic State Index. Aquatic Biodiversity. accessed 17 February 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Carlson, R.E. (1977) A trophic state index for lakes. Limnology and Oceanography. 22:2 361–369.
  4. ^ a b Carlson R.E. and J. Simpson (1996) A Coordinator's Guide to Volunteer Lake Monitoring Methods. North American Lake Management Society. 96 pp.
  5. ^ Definition of eutrophic at
Aquatic ecosystem

An aquatic ecosystem is an ecosystem in a body of water. Communities of organisms that are dependent on each other and on their environment live in aquatic ecosystems. The two main types of aquatic ecosystems are marine ecosystems and freshwater ecosystems.


Benthos is the community of organisms that live on, in, or near the seabed, river, lake, or stream bottom, also known as the benthic zone. This community lives in or near marine or freshwater sedimentary environments, from tidal pools along the foreshore, out to the continental shelf, and then down to the abyssal depths.

Many organisms adapted to deep-water pressure cannot survive in the upperparts of the water column. The pressure difference can be very significant (approximately one atmosphere for each 10 metres of water depth).Because light is absorbed before it can reach deep ocean-water, the energy source for deep benthic ecosystems is often organic matter from higher up in the water column that drifts down to the depths. This dead and decaying matter sustains the benthic food chain; most organisms in the benthic zone are scavengers or detritivores.

The term benthos, coined by Haeckel in 1891, comes from the Greek noun βένθος "depth of the sea". Benthos is used in freshwater biology to refer to organisms at the bottom of freshwater bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, and streams. There is also a redundant synonym, benthon.

Cascade effect (ecology)

An ecological cascade effect is a series of secondary extinctions that is triggered by the primary extinction of a key species in an ecosystem. Secondary extinctions are likely to occur when the threatened species are: dependent on a few specific food sources, mutualistic (dependent on the key species in some way), or forced to coexist with an invasive species that is introduced to the ecosystem. Species introductions to a foreign ecosystem can often devastate entire communities, and even entire ecosystems. These exotic species monopolize the ecosystem's resources, and since they have no natural predators to decrease their growth, they are able to increase indefinitely. Olsen et al. showed that exotic species have caused lake and estuary ecosystems to go through cascade effects due to loss of algae, crayfish, mollusks, fish, amphibians, and birds. However, the principal cause of cascade effects is the loss of top predators as the key species. As a result of this loss, a dramatic increase (ecological release) of prey species occurs. The prey is then able to overexploit its own food resources, until the population numbers decrease in abundance, which can lead to extinction. When the prey's food resources disappear, they starve and may go extinct as well. If the prey species is herbivorous, then their initial release and exploitation of the plants may result in a loss of plant biodiversity in the area. If other organisms in the ecosystem also depend upon these plants as food resources, then these species may go extinct as well. An example of the cascade effect caused by the loss of a top predator is apparent in tropical forests. When hunters cause local extinctions of top predators, the predators' prey's population numbers increase, causing an overexploitation of a food resource and a cascade effect of species loss. Recent studies have been performed on approaches to mitigate extinction cascades in food-web networks.

Energy flow (ecology)

In ecology, energy flow, also called the calorific flow, refers to the flow of energy through a food chain, and is the focus of study in ecological energetics. In an ecosystem, ecologists seek to quantify the relative importance of different component species and feeding relationships.

A general energy flow scenario follows:

Solar energy is fixed by the photoautotrophs, called primary producers, like green plants. Primary consumers absorb most of the stored energy in the plant through digestion, and transform it into the form of energy they need, such as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), through respiration. A part of the energy received by primary consumers, herbivores, is converted to body heat (an effect of respiration), which is radiated away and lost from the system. The loss of energy through body heat is far greater in warm-blooded animals, which must eat much more frequently than those that are cold-blooded. Energy loss also occurs in the expulsion of undigested food (egesta) by excretion or regurgitation.

Secondary consumers, carnivores, then consume the primary consumers, although omnivores also consume primary producers. Energy that had been used by the primary consumers for growth and storage is thus absorbed into the secondary consumers through the process of digestion. As with primary consumers, secondary consumers convert this energy into a more suitable form (ATP) during respiration. Again, some energy is lost from the system, since energy which the primary consumers had used for respiration and regulation of body temperature cannot be utilized by the secondary consumers.

Tertiary consumers, which may or may not be apex predators, then consume the secondary consumers, with some energy passed on and some lost, as with the lower levels of the food chain.

A final link in the food chain are decomposers which break down the organic matter of the tertiary consumers (or whichever consumer is at the top of the chain) and release nutrients into the soil. They also break down plants, herbivores and carnivores that were not eaten by organisms higher on the food chain, as well as the undigested food that is excreted by herbivores and carnivores. Saprotrophic bacteria and fungi are decomposers, and play a pivotal role in the nitrogen and carbon cycles.The energy is passed on from trophic level to trophic level and each time about 90% of the energy is lost, with some being lost as heat into the environment (an effect of respiration) and some being lost as incompletely digested food (egesta). Therefore, primary consumers get about 10% of the energy produced by autotrophs, while secondary consumers get 1% and tertiary consumers get 0.1%. This means the top consumer of a food chain receives the least energy, as a lot of the food chain's energy has been lost between trophic levels. This loss of energy at each level limits typical food chains to only four to six links.

Floodplain restoration

Floodplain restoration is the process of fully or partially restoring a river's floodplain to its original conditions before having been affected by the construction of levees (dikes) and the draining of wetlands and marshes.

The objectives of restoring floodplains include the reduction of the incidence of floods, the provision of habitats for aquatic species, the improvement of water quality and the increased recharge of groundwater.


Limnology ( lim-NOL-ə-jee; from Greek λίμνη, limne, "lake" and λόγος, logos, "knowledge"), is the study of inland aquatic ecosystems.

The study of limnology includes aspects of the biological, chemical, physical, and geological characteristics and functions of inland waters (running and standing waters, fresh and saline, natural or man-made). This includes the study of lakes, reservoirs, ponds, rivers, springs, streams, wetlands, and groundwater. A more recent sub-discipline of limnology, termed landscape limnology, studies, manages, and seeks to conserve these ecosystems using a landscape perspective, by explicitly examining connections between an aquatic ecosystem and its watershed. Recently, the need to understand global inland waters as part of the Earth System created a sub-discipline called global limnology. This approach considers processes in inland waters on a global scale, like the role of inland aquatic ecosystems in global biogeochemical cycles.Limnology is closely related to aquatic ecology and hydrobiology, which study aquatic organisms and their interactions with the abiotic (non-living) environment. While limnology has substantial overlap with freshwater-focused disciplines (e.g., freshwater biology), it also includes the study of inland salt lakes.

List of watershed topics

This list embraces topographical watersheds and drainage basins and other topics focused on them.

Mesopredator release hypothesis

The mesopredator release hypothesis is an ecological theory used to describe the interrelated population dynamics between apex predators and mesopredators within an ecosystem, such that a collapsing population of the former results in dramatically-increased populations of the latter. This hypothesis describes the phenomenon of trophic cascade in specific terrestrial communities.

A mesopredator is a medium-sized, middle trophic level predator, which both preys and is preyed upon. Examples are raccoons, skunks, snakes, cownose rays, and small sharks.

Particle (ecology)

In marine and freshwater ecology, a particle is a small object. Particles can remain in suspension in the ocean or freshwater. However, they eventually settle (rate determined by Stokes' law) and accumulate as sediment. Some can enter the atmosphere through wave action where they can act as cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). Many organisms filter particles out of the water with unique filtration mechanisms (filter feeders). Particles are often associated with high loads of toxins which attach to the surface. As these toxins are passed up the food chain they accumulate in fatty tissue and become increasingly concentrated in predators (see bioaccumulation). Very little is known about the dynamics of particles, especially when they are re-suspended by dredging. They can remain floating in the water and drift over long distances. The decomposition of some particles by bacteria consumes a lot of oxygen and can cause the water to become hypoxic.

Photic zone

The photic zone, euphotic zone (Greek for "well lit": εὖ "well" + φῶς "light"), or sunlight (or sunlit) zone is the uppermost layer of water in a lake or ocean that is exposed to intense sunlight. It corresponds roughly to the layer above the compensation point, i.e. depth where the rate of carbon dioxide uptake, or equivalently, the rate of photosynthetic oxygen production, is equal to the rate of carbon dioxide production, equivalent to the rate of respiratory oxygen consumption, i.e. the depth where net carbon dioxide assimilation is zero.

It extends from the surface down to a depth where light intensity falls to one percent of that at the surface, called the euphotic depth. Accordingly, its thickness depends on the extent of light attenuation in the water column. Typical euphotic depths vary from only a few centimetres in highly turbid eutrophic lakes, to around 200 meters in the open ocean. It also varies with seasonal changes in turbidity.

Since the photic zone is where almost all of the photosynthesis occurs, the depth of the photic zone is generally proportional to the level of primary production that occurs in that area of the ocean. About 90% of all marine life lives in the photic zone. A small amount of primary production is generated deep in the abyssal zone around the hydrothermal vents which exist along some mid-oceanic ridges.

The zone which extends from the base of the euphotic zone to about 200 metres is sometimes called the disphotic zone. While there is some light, it is insufficient for photosynthesis, or at least insufficient for photosynthesis at a rate greater than respiration. The euphotic zone together with the disphotic zone coincides with the epipelagic zone. The bottommost zone, below the euphotic zone, is called the aphotic zone. Most deep ocean waters belong to this zone.

The transparency of the water, which determines the depth of the photic zone, is measured simply with a Secchi disk. It may also be measured with a photometer lowered into the water.

Productivity (ecology)

In ecology, productivity refers to the rate of generation of biomass in an ecosystem. It is usually expressed in units of mass per unit surface (or volume) per unit time, for instance grams per square metre per day (g m−2 d−1). The mass unit may relate to dry matter or to the mass of carbon generated. Productivity of autotrophs such as plants is called primary productivity, while that of heterotrophs such as animals is called secondary productivity.

Ramsar site

A Ramsar site is a wetland site designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.The Convention on Wetlands, known as the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental environmental treaty established in 1971 by UNESCO, which came into force in 1975. It provides for national action and international cooperation regarding the conservation of wetlands, and wise sustainable use of their resources.Ramsar identifies wetlands of international importance, especially those providing waterfowl habitat.

As of 2016, there were 2,231 Ramsar sites, protecting 214,936,005 hectares (531,118,440 acres), and 169 national governments are currently participating.

Secchi disk

The Secchi disk, as created in 1865 by Angelo Secchi, is a plain white, circular disk 30 cm (12 in) in diameter used to measure water transparency or turbidity in bodies of water. The disc is mounted on a pole or line, and lowered slowly down in the water. The depth at which the disk is no longer visible is taken as a measure of the transparency of the water. This measure is known as the Secchi depth and is related to water turbidity. Since its invention, the disk has also been used in a modified, smaller 20 cm (8 in) diameter, black and white design to measure freshwater transparency.

Surface runoff

Surface runoff (also known as overland flow) is the flow of water that occurs when excess stormwater, meltwater, or other sources flows over the Earth's surface. This might occur because soil is saturated to full capacity, because rain arrives more quickly than soil can absorb it, or because impervious areas (roofs and pavement) send their runoff to surrounding soil that cannot absorb all of it. Surface runoff is a major component of the water cycle. It is the primary agent in soil erosion by water.Runoff that occurs on the ground surface before reaching a channel is also called a non point source. If a nonpoint source contains man-made contaminants, or natural forms of pollution (such as rotting leaves) the runoff is called nonpoint source pollution. A land area which produces runoff that drains to a common point is called a drainage basin. When runoff flows along the ground, it can pick up soil contaminants including petroleum, pesticides, or fertilizers that become discharge or nonpoint source pollution.In addition to causing water erosion and pollution, surface runoff in urban areas is a primary cause of urban flooding which can result in property damage, damp and mold in basements, and street flooding.

Sustainable gardening

Sustainable gardening includes the more specific sustainable landscapes, sustainable landscape design, sustainable landscaping, sustainable landscape architecture, resulting in sustainable sites. It comprises a disparate group of horticultural interests that can share the aims and objectives associated with the international post-1980s sustainable development and sustainability programs developed to address the fact that humans are now using natural biophysical resources faster than they can be replenished by nature.Included within this compass are those home gardeners, and members of the landscape and nursery industries, and municipal authorities, that integrate environmental, social, and economic factors to create a more sustainable future.

Organic gardening and the use of native plants are integral to sustainable gardening.


Trophic, from Ancient Greek τροφικός (trophikos) "pertaining to food or nourishment", may refer to:

Trophic cascade

Trophic coherence

Trophic dynamics

Trophic egg

Trophic factor receptor

Trophic factor

Trophic function

Trophic hormone

Trophic level index

Trophic level

Trophic mutualism

Trophic network

Trophic pyramid

Trophic species

Trophic state index

Trophic ulcer

Trophic web

Trophic level

The trophic level of an organism is the position it occupies in a food chain. A food chain is a succession of organisms that eat other organisms and may, in turn, be eaten themselves. The trophic level of an organism is the number of steps it is from the start of the chain. A food chain starts at trophic level 1 with primary producers such as plants, can move to herbivores at level 2, carnivores at level 3 or higher, and typically finish with apex predators at level 4 or 5. The path along the chain can form either a one-way flow or a food "web". Ecological communities with higher biodiversity form more complex trophic paths.

The word trophic derives from the Greek τροφή (trophē) referring to food or nourishment.

Trophic level index

The trophic level index (TLI) is used in New Zealand as a measure of nutrient status of lakes. It is similar to the trophic state index but was proposed as alternative that suited New Zealand.The system uses four criteria, phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations, as well as visual clarity and algal biomass weighted equally.

Aquatic ecosystems
Food webs
Example webs
Ecology: Modelling ecosystems: Other components

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