Omnivorous filter-feeding fish are common in tropical lakes and reservoirs, and can potentially reduce phytoplankton biomass in eutrophic systems. The goal of this study was to evaluate direct grazing or indirect increase in phytoplankton biomass through the trophic cascade and fish-mediated nutrient recycling produced by Nile tilapia. Natural phytoplankton assemblages were incubated in permeable chambers placed inside mesocosms with and without fish. Outside these chambers (mesocosms), phytoplankton was exposed to effects from nutrient recycling by zooplankton and fish, and to grazing by these consumers. Inside the permeable chambers, phytoplankton was exposed only to nutrient recycling by zooplankton and fish. Our results showed that in mesocosms, cyanobacteria biomass was significantly reduced by fish; water transparency and ammonium concentrations also increased, but did not affect soluble reactive phosphorus concentrations or zooplankton biomass. Fish-mediated nutrient recycling did not enhance phytoplankton growth inside permeable chambers, because phytoplankton growth was limited in this study by phosphorus availability. The estimated grazing rates showed that tilapia were able to reduce approximately 60% of phytoplankton biomass (mostly cyanobacteria). Our data indicated that fish grazing was the mechanism controlling cyanobacteria biomass. This study provides evidence that Oreochromis niloticus has the potential to reduce cyanobacteria community in eutrophic reservoirs.
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