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Temperature-related nocturnal vertical segregation of coexisting coregonids


Thomas Mehner, Department of Biology and Ecology of Fishes, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, PO Box 850 119, D-12561 Berlin, Germany; e-mail:


Mehner T, Busch S, Helland IP, Emmrich M, Freyhof J. Temperature-related nocturnal vertical segregation of coexisting coregonids.
Ecology of Freshwater Fish 2010: 19: 408–419. © 2010 John Wiley & Sons A/S

Abstract –  Habitat choice of fish may be influenced by many different ecological factors, e.g., predation risk, feeding opportunity, or temperature and oxygen availability. However, because most of the fish prey and their predators rely on vision for feeding, the predator avoidance and feeding opportunity hypotheses may fail to predict distribution of fish at complete darkness. Here, we accumulated patterns of nocturnal vertical distribution of two coexisting coregonid populations in Lake Stechlin from 13 samplings over 4 years, conducted by hydroacoustics and simultaneous midwater trawling. We calculated population depths, dispersion, illumination strengths and vertical temperature gradients for all sampling dates. Illumination strengths at fish population depths were far below the critical levels for feeding by vision, suggesting that predator avoidance or feeding opportunity did not trigger the depth distribution at night. In contrast, nocturnal population depths and dispersion of vendace Coregonus albula were significantly associated with the seasonally changing vertical temperature gradient in Lake Stechlin, whereas night-time distribution of the coexisting Fontane cisco Coregonus fontanae was almost unaffected by temperature. Vendace occurred just below the thermocline in isothermal water layers of about 6.5–9 °C during stratification of Lake Stechlin, whereas Fontane cisco preferred 4–6 °C cold layers. These experienced temperatures roughly correspond to species-specific optimum metabolic temperatures determined in earlier experiments. We assume, therefore, that the temperature-related vertical segregation during non-feeding hours at darkness is linked with metabolic benefits, thus suggesting that bioenergetics efficiency contributes to ultimate causes of diel vertical migrations at least in vendace.