1. Nutrient and fish manipulations in mesocosms were carried out on food-web interactions in a Mediterranean shallow lake in south-east Spain. Nutrients controlled biomass of phytoplankton and periphyton, while zooplankton, regulated by planktivorous fish, influenced the relative percentages of the dominant phytoplankton species.
2. Phytoplankton species diversity decreased with increasing nutrient concentration and planktivorous fish density. Cyanobacteria grew well in both turbid and clear-water states.
3. Planktivorous fish increased concentrations of soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP). Larger zooplankters (mostly Ceriodaphnia and copepods) were significantly reduced when fish were present, whereas rotifers increased, after fish removal of cyclopoid predators and other filter feeders (cladocerans, nauplii). The greatest biomass and diversity of zooplankton was found at intermediate nutrient levels, in mesocosms without fish and in the presence of macrophytes.
4. Water level decrease improved underwater light conditions and favoured macrophyte persistence. Submerged macrophytes (Chara spp.) outcompeted algae up to an experimental nutrient loading equivalent to added concentrations of 0.06 mg L−1 PO4-P and 0.6 mg L−1 NO3-N, above which an exponential increase in periphyton biomass and algal turbidity caused characean biomass to decline.
5. Declining water levels during summer favoured plant-associated rotifer species and chroococcal cyanobacteria. High densities of chroococcal cyanobacteria were related to intermediate nutrient enrichment and the presence of small zooplankton taxa, while filamentous cyanobacteria were relatively more abundant in fishless mesocosms, in which Crustacea were more abundant, and favoured by dim underwater light.
6. Benthic macroinvertebrates increased significantly at intermediate nutrient levels but there was no relationship with planktivorous fish density.
7. The thresholds of nutrient loading and in-lake P required to avoid a turbid state and maintain submerged macrophytes were lower than those reported from temperate shallow lakes. Mediterranean shallow lakes may remain turbid with little control of zooplankton on algal biomass, as observed in tropical and subtropical lakes. Nutrient loading control and macrophyte conservation appear to be especially important in these systems to maintain high water quality.