© 2014 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved. Calcium (Ca) concentrations are decreasing in softwater lakes across eastern North America and western Europe. Using long-term contemporary and palaeo-environmental field data, we show that this is precipitating a dramatic change in Canadian lakes: the replacement of previously dominant pelagic herbivores (Ca-rich Daphnia species) by Holopedium glacialis, a jelly-clad, Ca-poor competitor. In some lakes, this transformation is being facilitated by increases in macro-invertebrate predation, both from native (Chaoborus spp.) and introduced (Bythotrephes longimanus) zooplanktivores, to which Holopedium, with its jelly coat, is relatively invulnerable. Greater representation by Holopedium within cladoceran zooplankton communities will reduce nutrient transfer through food webs, given their lower phosphorus content relative to daphniids, and greater absolute abundances may pose long-term problems to water users. The dominance of jelly-clad zooplankton will likely persist while lakewater Ca levels remain low.