Dietary plasticity in Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) in response to long-term environmental change


L. Corrigan, School of Biological & Biomedical Sciences, Durham University, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK; e-mail:


Corrigan LJ, Winfield IJ, Hoelzel AR, Lucas MC. Dietary plasticity in Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) in response to long-term environmental change.
Ecology of Freshwater Fish 2011: 20: 5–13. © 2010 John Wiley & Sons A/S

Abstract –  In the face of widespread environmental change impacts, there is a need to better understand mechanisms promoting flexibility and resilience of ecosystem components to such change to inform strategies for conservation. Glacial relict species are especially vulnerable to such changes. We investigated the behavioural responses of a native, glacial relict species, Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) to long-term environmental changes. It was hypothesised that changes in feeding behaviour would occur as a key intermediary to reduction in habitat availability (through climate change and eutrophication) or competitive interactions [with introduced roach (Rutilus rutilus)]. Stomach content analysis was used to assess the diet of 199 charr caught from Windermere, United Kingdom, in the months of March, June, September and November 2003–2007. The results were compared to data from 1940 to 1951 prior to the environmental changes and revealed a marked increase in the contribution of benthic invertebrates in the present diet. Stable isotope analysis confirms the results of the stomach analysis, suggesting that the charr have switched their diet from zooplanktivory towards benthivory. We discuss the possibility that habitat modification and roach population expansion in Windermere have contributed to changes in charr diet. Complementary studies suggest that this diet shift is more likely to be a response to the increasing roach population than to habitat modification; however, further study in Windermere would be required to elucidate the exact mechanism. Long-term data sets such as these provide information that is useful for determining the directivity of ecological change and the capability of species to respond to change.