Trophic structure of apex fish communities in closed versus leaky lakes of arctic Alaska

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Despite low species diversity and primary production, trophic structure (e.g., top predator species, predator size) is surprisingly variable among Arctic lakes. We investigated trophic structure in lakes of arctic Alaska containing arctic char Salvelinus alpinus using stomach contents and stable isotope ratios in two geographically-close but hydrologically-distinct lake clusters to investigate how these fish may interact and compete for limited food resources. Aside from different lake connectivity patterns (‘leaky’ versus ‘closed’), differing fish communities (up to five versus only two species) between lake clusters allowed us to test trophic hypotheses including: (1) arctic char are more piscivorous, and thereby grow larger and obtain higher trophic positions, in the presence of other fish species; and, (2) between arctic char size classes, resource polymorphism is more prominent, and thereby trophic niches are narrower and overlap less, in the absence of other predators. Regardless of lake cluster, we observed little direct evidence of arctic char consuming other fishes, but char were larger (mean TL = 468 vs 264 mm) and trophic position was higher (mean TP = 4.0 vs 3.8 for large char) in lakes with other fishes. Further, char demonstrated less intraspecific overlap when other predators were present whereas niche overlap was up to 100% in closed, char only lakes. As hydrologic characteristics (e.g., lake connectivity, water temperatures) will change across the Arctic owing to climate change, our results provide insight regarding potential concomitant changes to fish interactions and increase our understanding of lake trophic structure to guide management and conservation goals.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Trophic structure of apex fish communities in closed versus leaky lakes of arctic Alaska
Series title Oecologia
DOI 10.1007/s00442-020-04776-9
Volume 194
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle
Description 14 p.
First page 491
Last page 504
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Brooks Range, Toolik Field Station
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