Seasonal Change in Trophic Niche of Adfluvial Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus) and Coexisting Fishes in a High-Elevation Lake System

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Introduction of non-native species is a leading threat to global aquatic biodiversity. Competition between native and non-native species is often influenced by changes in suitable habitat or food availability. We investigated diet breadth and degree of trophic niche overlap for a fish assemblage of native and non-native species inhabiting a shallow, high elevation lake system. This assemblage includes one of the last remaining post-glacial endemic populations of adfluvial Arctic grayling (Thymallus arcticus) in the contiguous United States. We examined gut contents and stable isotope values of fish taxa in fall and spring to assess both short- (days) and long-term (few months) changes in trophic niches. We incorporate these short-term (gut contents) data into a secondary isotope analysis using a Bayesian statistical framework to estimate long-term trophic niche. Our data suggest that in this system, Arctic grayling share both a short- and long-term common food base with non-native trout of cutthroat x rainbow hybrid species (Oncorhynchus clarkia bouvieri x Oncorhynchus mykiss) and brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). In addition, trophic niche overlap among Arctic grayling, hybrid trout, and brook trout appeared to be stronger during spring than fall. In contrast, the native species of Arctic grayling, burbot (Lota lota), and suckers (Catostomus spp.) largely consumed different prey items. Our results suggest strong seasonal differences in trophic niche overlap among Arctic grayling and non-native trout, with a potential for greatest competition for food during spring. We suggest that conservation of endemic Arctic grayling in high-elevation lakes will require recognition of the potential for coexisting non-native taxa to impede well-intentioned recovery efforts.




Cutting, K.A., Wyatt F. Cross, Michelle L. Anderson, and Elizabeth G. Reese. "Seasonal Change in Trophic Niche of Adfluvial Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus) and Coexisting Fishes in a High-Elevation Lake System." PLoS ONE 11, no. 5 (May 2016): e0156187. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0156187.
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