Lake morphometry predicts the degree of habitat coupling by a mobile predator


  • Rebecca Dolson,

  • Kevin McCann,

  • Neil Rooney,

  • Mark Ridgway

R. Dolson (, K. McCann and N. Rooney, Dept of Integrative Biology, Univ. of Guelph, Guelph, ON, N1G 2W1, Canada. – M. Ridgway, Harkness Laboratory of Fisheries Research, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Trent Univ., Peterborough, ON, Canada.


Habitat coupling is an ecosystem process whereby semi-discontinuous habitats are connected through the movement of energy and nutrients by chemical, physical or biological processes. One oft-cited example is that of littoral–pelagic coupling in lakes. Theory has argued that such habitat coupling may be critical to food web dynamics, yet there have been few empirical studies that have quantified ecological factors that affect the degree of habitat coupling in ecosystems. Specifically, the degree to which habitat coupling occurs across important physical gradients has largely been ignored. To address this, we investigate the degree of littoral habitat coupling (i.e. the degree to which a top predator lake trout, Salvelinus namaycush, derives energy from the littoral zone) along a gradient of lake shape, where lake shape modifies the relative quantity of coupled epilimnetic benthic and pelagic habitats within each lake. Herein we demonstrate that littoral habitat coupling is intensified in simple circular lakes compared to their reticulate counterparts in seven Canadian Shield lakes. Although the more reticulate lakes had larger areas of epilimnetic benthic habitat, littoral food sources comprised 11% compared to 24% of lake trout diet in reticulate and circular lakes, respectively. This heightened interaction in circular lakes also appears to translate into increased omnivory in more circular lakes compared to reticulate lakes such that lake trout of circular lakes have a significantly lower trophic position than lake trout of reticulate lakes (F1,5=6.71 p=0.05). These results suggest that it is the accessibility of littoral production via thermal refugia, and not the amount of littoral production, that determines the degree to which lake trout couple littoral and pelagic habitats in lakes.