Excessive water level fluctuation may affect physico-chemical characteristics, and consequently ecosystem function, in lakes and reservoirs. In this study, we assessed the changes of phytoplankton assemblages in response to water level increase in Danjiangkou Reservoir, one of the largest drinking water reservoirs in Asia. The water level increased from a low of 137 m to 161 m in 2014 as a part of the South–North Water Diversion Project. Phytoplankton assemblages were sampled four times per year before, during and after the water level increase, at 10 sites. Environmental variables such as total nitrogen as well as phytoplankton biomass decreased after the water level increase. Non-metric multi-dimensional scaling analysis indicated that before the water level increase, phytoplankton assemblages showed distinct seasonal variation with diatom dominance in both early and late seasons while such seasonal variation was much less evident after the water level increase. Month and year (before and after) explained 13% and 6% of variance in phytoplankton assemblages (PERMANOVA, p
< 0.001) respectively, and phytoplankton assemblages were significantly different before and after the water level increase. Both chlorophytes and cyanobacteria became more abundant in 2015. Phytoplankton compositional change may largely reflect the environmental changes, such as hydrodynamics mediated by the water level increase.
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