Changes in zooplankton community structure and function were analyzed in 24 lakes covering a wide salinity gradient (from 0.5 to 115 g l(-1)) in a semiarid region in northwest China. We hypothesized that species richness (S), species diversity (H), functional diversity (FD), biomass, and size of zooplankton would decrease with increasing salinity. We found that S, H, and FD did decrease with increasing salinity, whereas zooplankton sizes, size range, and biomasses did not. In fact, the sizes of microcrustaceans were mainly regulated by the abundance of small fish. Besides the impoverishment of FD, the zooplankton functional groups also varied along the salinity gradient. A shift occurred from selective raptorial to more generalist microphagous rotifers, from selective to more generalist filter feeder cladocerans, and from dominance of microphagous herbivorous copepods to microphagous carnivores. Our study indicates that the ongoing salinization of lakes with climate warming will result in important changes in the zooplankton, affecting not only the structure but also the functioning of this community. A weakened top-down control by zooplankton on phytoplankton at moderate high salinities may be an indirect consequence, leading to a worsening of eutrophication symptoms. Loss of fish at high salinities may, however, counteract this effect.