Water level fluctuation (WLF) has a significant effect on aquatic macrophytes, but few experimental studies have examined the effect of WLF on submerged community succession, especially from a large-scale perspective. In this study, field monitoring of WLF and submerged macrophytes was conducted in Yilong Lake (SE China) over two years, and the impacts of WLF on the growth characteristics and the community structure of submerged macrophytes were determined. The results show that the biomass of submerged macrophytes decreased significantly after the water level increased and submerged macrophytes could cope with the adverse environment by adjusting their growth posture, for example, increasing plant length and reducing branch number. However, different submerged plants have different regulatory abilities, which leads to a change in the community structure. Myriophyllum spicatum
, Stuckenia pectinata
, and Najas marina
had better adaptation abilities to WLF than Najas minor
and Utricularia vulgaris
. Changes in water depth, dissolved oxygen, and transparency significantly contribute to the effect of WLF on submerged plant communities. Therefore, when determining the range of WLF, the above three critical factors and submerged plant species should be considered. WLF changed the spatial distribution of the aquatic plant community. When water levels rose, the density of the submerged macrophyte community in the original growth region reduced as the emergent plants migrated to shallower water, and the seed bank germination was aided by transparent water produced among emergent plants. This can be used as a pioneering measure to restore submerged plants in eutrophic lakes with low transparency. In addition, a suitable water depth created by WLF was conducive to activating the seed bank and improving the diversity of aquatic plants. Finally, a distribution map of aquatic plants in Yilong Lake is drawn.
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