1. The scale of investigations influences the interpretation of results. Here, we investigate the influence of fish and nutrients on biotic communities in shallow lakes, using studies at two different scales: (i) within-lake experimental manipulation and (ii) comparative, among-lake relationships.
2. At both scales, fish predation had an overriding influence on macroinvertebrates; fish reduced macroinvertebrate biomass and altered community composition. Prey selection appeared to be size based. Fish influenced zooplankton abundance and light penetration through the water column also, but there was no indication that fish caused increased resuspension of sediment.
3. There were effects of nutrients at both scales, but these effects differed with the scale of the investigation. Nutrients increased phytoplankton and periphyton at the within-lake scale, and were associated with increased periphyton at the among-lake scale. No significant effect of nutrients on macroinvertebrates was observed at the within-lake scale. However, at the among-lake scale, nutrients positively influenced the biomass and density of macroinvertebrates, and ameliorated the effect of fish on macroinvertebrates.
4. Increased prey availability at higher nutrient concentrations would be expected to cause changes in the fish community. However, at the among-lake scale, differences were not apparent in fish biomass among lakes with different nutrient conditions, suggesting that stochastic events influence the fish community in these small and relatively isolated shallow lakes.
5. The intensity of predation by fish significantly influences macroinvertebrate community structure of shallow lakes, but nutrients also play a role. The scale of investigation influences the ability to detect the influence of nutrients on the different components of shallow lake communities, particularly for longer lived organisms such as macroinvertebrates, where the response takes longer to manifest.