A positive feedback between submerged vegetation and water clarity forms the backbone of the alternative state theory in shallow lakes. The water clearing effect of aquatic vegetation may be caused by different physical, chemical, and biological mechanisms and has been studied mainly in temperate lakes. Recent work suggests differences in biotic interactions between (sub)tropical and cooler lakes might result in a less pronounced clearing effect in the (sub)tropics. To assess whether the effect of submerged vegetation changes with climate, we sampled 83 lakes over a gradient ranging from the tundra to the tropics in South America. Judged from a comparison of water clarity inside and outside vegetation beds, the vegetation appeared to have a similar positive effect on the water clarity across all climatic regions studied. However, the local clearing effect of vegetation decreased steeply with the contribution of humic substances to the underwater light attenuation. Looking at turbidity on a whole-lake scale, results were more difficult to interpret. Although lakes with abundant vegetation (>30%) were generally clear, sparsely vegetated lakes differed widely in clarity. Overall, the effect of vegetation on water clarity in our lakes appears to be smaller than that found in various Northern hemisphere studies. This might be explained by differences in fish communities and their relation to vegetation. For instance, unlike in Northern hemisphere studies, we find no clear relation between vegetation coverage and fish abundance or their diet preference. High densities of omnivorous fish and coinciding low grazing pressures on phytoplankton in the (sub)tropics may, furthermore, weaken the effect of vegetation on water clarity.
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