Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Alaska
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Laske, S. M., A.E. Rosenberger, M.S. Wipfli, and C.E. Zimmerman. 2019. Surface water connectivity controls fish food web structure and complexity across local-and meta-food webs in Arctic Coastal Plain lakes. Food Webs


The need for theories that address food web assembly and complexity over multiple spatial scales are critical to understanding their stability and persistence. In a meta-food web – an integrated network of local food webs – spatial heterogeneity in physical processes may have profound effects on food web function and energy flow. In the Arctic, surface water connectivity plays a vital role in determining fish assemblage composition, and potentially, food web structure. We examined lentic food web complexity associated with heterogeneity in surface water connectivity among Arctic lakes at the local scale, by contrasting lakes over a stream-lake connectivity gradient, and at the regional scale, by contrasting two locations with different surface water conditions (i.e., wet and dry) on the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska. Among lakes and across locations, increased hydrologic connectivity between streams and lakes increased the number of fish species and increased the complexity of the food web. The interaction of the region's hydrologic connectivity, local stream-lake connections, and the trophic niches of relevant fish species produced integrated, complex meta-food webs. Fully understanding mechanisms that support meta-food web stability are crucial when assessing future changes to Arctic stream-lake networks and the function and persistence of aquatic food webs.