Biological invasions are becoming more common, yet the majority of introduced exotic species fail to establish viable populations in new environments. Current ecological research suggests that invasion success may be determined by properties of the native ecosystem, such as the supply rate of limiting nutrients (i.e. trophic state). We examined how trophic state influences invasion success by introducing an exotic zooplankter, Daphnia lumholtzi into native plankton communities in a series of experimental mesocosms exposed to a strong nutrient gradient. We predicted that the attributes of nutrient-enriched communities would increase the likelihood of a successful invasion attempt by D. lumholtzi. Contrary to our original predictions, we found that D. lumholtzi was often absent from mesocosms that developed under high nutrient supply rates. Instead, the presence of D. lumholtzi was associated with systems that had low nutrients, low zooplankton biomass, and high zooplankton species diversity. Using generalized estimating equations (GEE) and multivariate species data, we found that the presence–absence of D. lumholtzi could be explained by variations in zooplankton community structure, which was itself strongly influenced by nutrient supply rate. We argue that the apparent invasion success of D. lumholtzi was inhibited by the dominance of another cladoceran species, Chydorus sphaericus. These results suggest that the interaction between trophic state and species identity influenced the invasion success of introduced D. lumholtzi.