Dispersal is a major organising force in metacommunities, which may facilitate compositional responses of local communities to environmental change and affect ecosystem function. Organism groups differ widely in their dispersal abilities and their communities are therefore expected to have different adaptive abilities. In mesocosms, we studied the simultaneous compositional response of three plankton communities (zoo-, phyto- and bacterioplankton) to a primary productivity gradient and evaluated how this response was mediated by dispersal intensity. Dispersal enhanced responses in all three planktonic groups, which also affected ecosystem functioning. Yet, variation partitioning analyses indicated that responses in phytoplankton and bacterial communities were not only controlled by dispersal directly but also indirectly through complex trophic interactions. Our results indicate that metacommunity patterns emerging from dispersal can cascade through the food web and generate patterns of apparent dispersal limitation in organisms at other trophic levels.