Klobucar, S.L., and P. Budy. 2020. Trophic structure of apex fish communities in closed versus leaky lakes of arctic Alaska. Oecologia Early Online. doi.org/10.1007/s00442-020-04776-9. USGS FSP IP-109849.
With low species diversity and primary production across arctic lakes, trophic structure (e.g., top predator species, predator size) is surprisingly variable. We investigated trophic structure in lakes of arctic Alaska containing arctic char Salvelinus alpinus using predator diets and stable isotopes in two geographically-close but hydrologically-distinct lake clusters to investigate how these fishes 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 food web 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) across 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 consume 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.