, Volume 749, Issue 1, pp 125–134 | Cite as

Size-dependent feeding of omnivorous Nile tilapia in a macrophyte-dominated lake: implications for lake management

  • Weimin Rao
  • Jiajia Ning
  • Ping Zhong
  • Erik Jeppesen
  • Zhengwen Liu
Primary Research Paper


Some species or size classes of omnivorous/herbivorous fish in (sub) tropical lakes feed on periphyton and phytoplankton, potentially promoting growth of macrophytes via reduced shading. Others feed on macrophytes, thereby enhancing the risk of having a turbid phytoplankton-dominated system in shallow lakes. Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), an abundant species in many warm lakes, feed on periphyton, phytoplankton, and macrophytes depending on their size and may therefore have a size-dependent effect on lake ecosystems. We conducted a C–N stable isotope analysis on different size-classes of tilapia and their potential prey to determine their food sources in a tropical eutrophic shallow lake dominated by submerged macrophytes. The shares of the dominant macrophyte, Vallisneria natans, periphyton, and seston in the diet of fish averaged approx. 54, 26, and 20%, respectively. Large-bodied specimens fed mainly on macrophytes, while small-bodied specimens were more dependent on periphyton, seston, or detritus. The results were confirmed by subsequent stomach analysis. We conclude that small-sized tilapia promote macrophyte growth by removing periphyton and seston, whereas large-bodied individuals may restrict macrophyte development. Selective removal of large-bodied tilapia might, therefore, stimulate the development of submerged macrophytes and promote or maintain a clear water state in eutrophic shallow lakes with abundant tilapia.


Shallow lakes Macrophytes Periphyton Omnivorous fish Size-dependent feeding Regime shifts Eutrophication Lake restoration 



The authors thank Jinlei Yu, Xiaodan Di, Jian Gao, Jie Mao, Long Han, Teng Miao, Ruyan Yue, Jinrun Hu, Xuefeng Zhao, and Ping Li for field and laboratory support; and Anne Mette Poulsen for language assistance. This study was supported by the National Basic Research Program of China (No. 2012CB956100), and the National Foundation of Science of China (Nos. U1033602 and 41471086). EJ was supported by the MARS project (Managing Aquatic ecosystems and water Resources under multiple Stress) funded under the 7th EU Framework Programme—Theme 6 (Environment including Climate Change), Contract No.: 603378 (, the Danish projects CIRCE, CRES, and CLEAR2 (a Villum Kann Rasmussen Centre of Excellence project).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Weimin Rao
    • 1
  • Jiajia Ning
    • 1
  • Ping Zhong
    • 1
  • Erik Jeppesen
    • 3
    • 4
  • Zhengwen Liu
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Institute of HydrobiologyJinan UniversityGuangzhouChina
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Lake Science and Environment, Nanjing Institute of Geography & LimnologyChinese Academy of SciencesNanjingChina
  3. 3.Department of Bioscience and the Arctic CentreAarhus UniversitySilkeborgDenmark
  4. 4.Sino-Danish Center for Education and ResearchBeijingChina

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