1. The major aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that nutrient enrichment and the introduction of the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), an exotic omnivorous filter-feeding fish, operate interdependently to regulate plankton communities and water transparency of a tropical reservoir in the semi-arid northeastern Brazil.
2. A field experiment was performed for 5 weeks in 20 enclosures (9.8 m3) to which four treatments were randomly allocated: tilapia addition (F), nutrient addition (N), tilapia and nutrient addition (F + N) and a control treatment with no tilapia or nutrient addition (C). A two-way repeated measures anova was undertaken to test for time, tilapia and nutrient effects and their interactions on water transparency, total phosphorus and total nitrogen concentrations, phytoplankton biovolume and zooplankton biomass.
3. Nutrient addition had no effect except on rotifer biomass, but there were significant fish effects on the biomass of total zooplankton, copepod nauplii, rotifers, cladocerans and calanoid copepods and on the biovolume of total phytoplankton, large algae (GALD ≥ 50 μm), Bacillariophyta and Zygnemaphyceae and on Secchi depth. In addition, we found significant interaction effects between tilapia and nutrients on Secchi depth and rotifers. Overall, tilapia decreased the biomass of most zooplankton taxa and large algae (diatoms) and decreased water transparency, while nutrient enrichment increased the biomass of rotifers, but only in the absence of tilapia.
4. In conclusion, the influence of fish on the reservoir plankton community and water transparency was significant and even greater than that of nutrient loading. This suggests that biomanipulation of filter-feeding tilapias may be of importance for water quality management of eutrophic reservoirs in tropical semi-arid regions.