Substitution of top predators: effects of pike invasion in a subarctic lake


Pär Byström, Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University, SE-901 87 Umeå, Sweden. E-mail:


1. Invasions of top predators may have strong cascading effects in ecosystems affecting both prey species abundance and lower trophic levels. A recently discussed factor that may enhance species invasion is climate change and in this context, we studied the effects of an invasion of northern pike into a subarctic lake ecosystem formerly inhabited by the native top predator Arctic char and its prey fish, ninespined stickleback.

2. Our study demonstrated a strong change in fish community composition from a system with Arctic char as top predator and high densities of sticklebacks to a system with northern pike as top predator and very low densities of sticklebacks. A combination of both predation and competition from pike is the likely cause of the extinction of char.

3. The change in top predator species also cascaded down to primary consumers as both zooplankton and predator-sensitive macroinvertebrates increased in abundance.

4. Although the pike invasion coincided with increasing summer temperatures in the study area we have no conclusive evidence that the temperature increase is the causal mechanism behind the pike invasion. But still, our study provides possible effects of future pike invasions in mountain lakes related to climate change. We suggest that future pike invasions will have strong effects in lake ecosystems, both by replacing native top consumers and through cascading effects on lower trophic levels.