The effects of winter ice cover on the trophic ecology of whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus L.) in subarctic lakes

Authors

  • Brian Hayden,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
    • Kilpisjärvi Biological Station, University of Helsinki, Kilpisjärvi, Finland
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  • Chris Harrod,

    1. Medical Biology Centre, School of Biological Sciences, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, UK
    2. Instituto de Investigaciones Oceanológicas, Universidad de Antofagasta, Antofagasta, Chile
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  • Kimmo K. Kahilainen

    1. Kilpisjärvi Biological Station, University of Helsinki, Kilpisjärvi, Finland
    2. Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
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Correspondence: B. Hayden, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, PO Box 65, FIN-00014 Helsinki, Finland. E-mail: Brian.Hayden@Helsinki.fi

Abstract

Lakes in Arctic and subarctic regions display extreme levels of seasonal variation in light, temperature and ice cover. Comparatively little is known regarding the effects of such seasonal variation on the diet and resource use of fish species inhabiting these systems. Variation in the diet of European whitefish Coregonus lavaretus (L.) during periods of ice cover in this region is often regarded as ‘common knowledge’; however, this aspect of the species' ecology has not been examined empirically. Here, we outline the differences in invertebrate community structure, fish activity, and resource use of monomorphic whitefish populations between summer (August–September) and winter (February–March) in three subarctic lakes in Finnish Lapland. Benthic macroinvertebrate densities did not exhibit measurable differences between summer and winter. Zooplankton diversity and abundance, and activity levels of all fish species (measured as catch per unit effort) were lower in winter. The summer diet of C. lavaretus was typical of a generalist utilising a variety of prey sources. In winter, its dietary niche was significantly reduced, and the diet was dominated by chironomid larvae in all study sites. Pelagic productivity decreases during winter, and fish species inhabiting these systems are therefore restricted to feeding on benthic prey. Sampling time has strong effect on our understanding of resource utilisation by whitefish in subarctic lakes and should be taken into account in future studies of these systems.

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