We evaluated how water residence time mediated the impact of zebra mussels Dreissena polymorpha and bluegill sunfish Lepomis macrochirus on experimental food webs established in 1100-1 outdoor mesocosms. Water residence time was manipulated as a surrogate for seston resupply - a critical variable affecting growth and survival of suspension-feeding invertebrates. We used a 2 x 2 x 2 factorial experimental design with eight treatment combinations (3 replicates/treatment) including the presence or absence of Dreissena (2000 per m2), juvenile bluegill (40 per mesocosm), and short (1100 1 per d) or long (220 1 per d) water residence time. Measures of seston concentration (chlorophyll a, turbidity and suspended solids) were greater in the short- compared to long water-residence mesocosms, but intermediate in short water-residence mesocosms containing Dreissena. Abundance of rotifers (Keratella and Polyarthra) was reduced in Dreissena mesocosms and elevated in short residence time mesocosms. Cladocera abundance, in general, was unaffected by the presence of Dreissena; densities were higher in short-residence time mesocosms, and reduced in the presence of Lepomis. The growth of juvenile Lepomis were unaffected by Dreissena because of abundant benthic food. The final total mass of Dreissena was significantly greater in short- than long-residence mesocosms. Impacts of Dreissena on planktonic food webs may not only depend on the density of zebra mussels but also on the residence time of the surrounding water and the resupply of seston. ?? 1997 Kluwer Academic Publishers.