Climate change is increasing ambient temperatures in Arctic and subarctic regions, facilitating latitudinal range expansions of freshwater fishes adapted to warmer water temperatures. The relative roles of resource availability and interspecific interactions between resident and invading species in determining the outcomes of such expansions has not been adequately evaluated.
Ecological interactions between a cool-water adapted fish, the perch (Perca fluviatilis), and the cold-water adapted European whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus), were studied in both shallow and deep lakes with fish communities dominated by (1) monomorphic whitefish, (2) monomorphic whitefish and perch, and (3) polymorphic whitefish and perch. A combination of stomach content, stable-isotope, and invertebrate prey availability data were used to identify resource use and niche overlap among perch, the trophic generalist large sparsely rakered (LSR) whitefish morph, and the pelagic specialist densely rakered (DR) whitefish morph in 10 subarctic lakes at the contemporary distribution limit of perch in northern Scandinavia.
Perch utilized its putative preferred littoral niche in all lakes. LSR whitefish utilized both littoral and pelagic resources in monomorphic whitefish-dominated lakes. When found in sympatry with perch, LSR whitefish exclusively utilized pelagic prey in deep lakes, but displayed niche overlap with perch in shallow littoral lakes. DR whitefish was a specialist zooplanktivore, relegating LSR whitefish from pelagic habitats, leading to an increase in niche overlap between LSR whitefish and perch in deep lakes.
Our results highlight how resource availability (lake depth and fish community) governs ecological interactions between native and invading species, leading to different outcomes even at the same latitudes. These findings suggest that lake morphometry and fish community structure data should be included in bioclimate envelope-based models of species distribution shifts following predicted climate change.