History and timing of human impact on Lake Victoria, East Africa

Dirk Verschuren, Thomas C. Johnson, Hedy J. Kling, David N. Edgington, Peter R. Leavitt, Erik T. Brown, Michael R. Talbot, Robert E. Hecky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

230 Scopus citations


Lake Victoria, the largest tropical lake in the world, suffers from severe eutrophication and the probable extinction of up to half of its 500+ species of endemic cichlid fishes. The continuing degradation of Lake Victoria's ecological functions has serious long-term consequences for the ecosystem services it provides, and may threaten social welfare in the countries bordering its shores. Evaluation of recent ecological changes in the context of aquatic food-web alterations, catchment disturbance and natural ecosystem variability has been hampered by the scarcity of historical monitoring data. Here, we present high-resolution palaeolimnological data, which show that increases in phytoplankton production developed from the 1930s onwards, which parallels human-population growth and agricultural activity in the Lake Victoria drainage basin. Dominance of bloom-forming cyanobacteria since the late 1980s coincided with a relative decline in diatom growth, which can be attributed to the seasonal depletion of dissolved silica resulting from 50 years of enhanced diatom growth and burial. Eutrophication-induced loss of deep-water oxygen started in the early 1960s, and may have contributed to the 1980s collapse of indigenous fish stocks by eliminating suitable habitat for certain deep-water cichlids. Conservation of Lake Victoria as a functioning ecosystem is contingent upon large-scale implementation of improved land-use practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-294
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1488
StatePublished - Feb 7 2002


  • Eutrophication
  • Fish introduction
  • Human impact
  • Lake Victoria
  • Landscape disturbance
  • Nile perch


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