We tested the importance of thermal adaptations and energy efficiency in relation to the geographical distribution of two competing freshwater salmonid fish species. Presence–absence data for Arctic char and brown trout were obtained from 1502 Norwegian lakes embracing both temperature and productivity gradients. The distributions were contrasted with laboratory-derived temperature scaling models for food consumption, growth and energy efficiency. Thermal performances of the two species were almost identical. However, Arctic char exhibited double the growth efficiency (per unit of food) and appear to have out-competed brown trout from cold, low-productivity lakes, perhaps by scramble competition. Brown trout, for which previous reports have shown to be aggressive and dominant, have likely excluded the more energy-efficient Arctic char from relatively warm, productive lakes, perhaps by contest competition. Competitive interaction changing in outcome with lake productivity, rather than thermal performance, is likely a major determinant of the range distribution of the two species. Our study highlights the need for more focus on choice of relevant ecophysiological traits in ecological climate impact studies and species distribution modelling.
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