1. High biomass of macrophytes is considered important in the maintenance of a clear-water state in shallow eutrophic lakes. Therefore, rehabilitation and protection of aquatic vegetation is crucial to the management of shallow lakes.
2. We conducted field mesocosm experiments in 1998 and 1999 to study community responses in the plant-dominated littoral zone of a lake to nutrient enrichment at different fish densities. We aimed to find the threshold fish biomass for the different nutrient enrichment levels below which large herbivorous zooplankton escapes control by fish. The experiments took place in the littoral of Lake Vesijärvi in southern Finland and were part of a series of parallel studies carried out jointly at six sites across Europe.
3. In 1998, when macrophyte growth was poor, a clear-water state with low phytoplankton biomass occurred only in unenriched mesocosms without fish or with low fish biomass (4 g fresh mass m−2). Both nutrient enrichment and high fish biomass (20 g fresh mass m−2) provoked a turbid water state with high planktonic and periphytic algal biomass. The zooplankton community was dominated by rotifers and failed to control the biomass of algae in nutrient enriched mesocosms. The littoral community thus had low buffer capacity against nutrient enrichment.
4. In 1999, macrophytes, especially free-floating Lemna trisulca L., grew well and the zooplankton community was dominated by filter-feeding cladocerans. The buffer capacity of the littoral community against nutrient enrichment was high; a clear-water state with low phytoplankton biomass prevailed even under the highest nutrient enrichment. High grazing rates by cladocerans, together with reduced light penetration into the water caused by L. trisulca, were apparently the main mechanisms behind the low algal biomass.
5. Effects of fish manipulations were less pronounced than effects of nutrient enrichment. In 1999, clearance rates of cladocerans were similar in fish-free and low-fish treatments but decreased in the high-fish treatment. This suggests that the threshold fish biomass was between the low- and high-fish treatments. In 1998, such a threshold was found only between fish-free and low-fish treatments.
6. The pronounced difference in the observed responses to nutrient enrichment and fish additions in two successive years suggests that under similar nutrient conditions and fish feeding pressure either clear or turbid water may result depending on the initial community structure and on weather.