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Habitat, diet and food assimilation of Arctic charr under the winter ice in two subarctic lakes

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Abstract

The Arctic charr Salvelinus alpinus populations of the subarctic lakes Takvatn and Fjellfrøsvatn, north Norway, concentrated in the littoral zones (0–15 m) of the lakes during the entire winter (December to May) despite very low temperatures (0·2 and 0·7° C). High prey availability, low predation and competition and comparatively better light under snow and ice in shallow compared with deep water are probable reasons. At ice break in June, all Arctic charr moved to the profundal zone for a brief period, probably in response to the sudden light increase and a profundal resource peak of chironomid pupae. In the summer, the Arctic charr are found in the pelagic, profundal and littoral zones of the lakes. These populations therefore perform regular habitat shifts between the littoral zone in the winter, the profundal zone at ice break and the whole lake in the summer and autumn. The fish fed continuously during winter despite the cold water and the poor light. Amphipods and chironomid larvae dominated the diet. Catch per unit effort, numbers of stomachs with food and food intake rates varied with the subarctic light cycle but were lowest after the winter solstice. The winter assimilation of energy was about equal to the standard metabolism in Takvatn but was higher in Fjellfrøsvatn. The assimilation increased in both lakes under the spring ice in May. The habitat choice, diet and energy assimilation indicate that the Arctic charr is well adapted to the extreme winter conditions of subarctic lakes.

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