1. Decades of introductions of exotic sportfish to mountain lakes around the world have impoverished them biologically, and this may be exacerbated by global warming. We assessed the current status of invasive salmonids and native zooplankton communities in 34 naturally fishless lakes along an elevational gradient, which served as an environmental proxy for the expected effects of climate change.
2. Our main goal was to explore how climate-related variables influence the effects of stocked salmonids on the total biomass, species richness and taxonomic composition of zooplankton. We predicted that warmer conditions would dampen the negative predatory effects of exotic brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) on zooplankton communities because more temperate lakes contain a greater diversity of potentially tolerant species.
3. Instead, we discovered that the persistence of stocked brook trout in the warmer lakes significantly amplified total zooplankton biomass and species richness. In colder and deeper lakes, zooplankton were relatively unaffected by S. fontinalis, which however persisted better in alpine lakes than at lower elevations after stocking practices were halted over two decades ago. Warmer lake conditions and higher concentrations of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) were significant primary drivers of zooplankton species turnover, both favouring greater species diversity.
4. Our findings of an ecological surprise involving potential synergistic positive effects of climate warming and exotic trout on native zooplankton communities presents a conundrum for managers of certain national mountain parks. Present mandates to eradicate non-native trout and return the mountain lakes to their naturally fishless state may conflict with efforts to conserve biodiversity under a rapidly changing climate.