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Transactions of the American Fisheries Society






American Fisheries Society

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Two principal sport fish—the indigenous Bonneville cutthroat trout Oncorhynchus clarki utah and the introduced lake trout Salvelinus namaycush—are the dominant piscivores in Bear Lake, a 282-km^2 oligotrophic system. These piscivores rely predominantly on four endemic prey fish species that make up a major portion of the unique Bear Lake fish assemblage. We estimated the annual biomass of pelagic and benthic prey fish by using hydroacoustic and trawling techniques. We also estimated the lakewide abundance of piscivores with a multiple mark–recapture survey and used a bioenergetics model to compare the population-level consumption of prey fish with prey fish production. Prey fish biomass declined to a minimum during 1991 and 1992 but subsequently recovered to reach maximum levels during 1994 and 1995. The proportion of maximum ration estimates from model simulations indicated that the piscivores were consuming well below maximum rations during a period when predation exceeded prey fish production, thereby providing the potential for a predator–prey imbalance. Predation impacts by lake trout cohorts were prolonged because of high survivorship and long life expectancy. Although cutthroat trout outnumbered lake trout, the larger, more piscivorous size-classes of cutthroat trout accounted for only 12.5% of their population. This information, combined with overlapping diets and declining condition factors at increased piscivore biomass, also indicates that lake trout may be competing with cutthroat trout during periods of low prey fish resources. Lake trout predation on juvenile cutthroat trout, combined with competition with other age-classes, also contributes to the poor survival of cutthroat trout. Although prey fish abundance appears to be largely influenced by bottom-up factors related to water elevation, lake trout exert a decoupled predatory threat to the endemic prey fish populations and have the potential to suppress endemic fishes during unpredictable periods of poor prey fish production.