Effect of landscape factors on fish distribution in arctic Alaskan lakes

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

Freshwater Biology



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landscape, fish, distribution, arctic

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1. The distribution of species is affected by many factors operating at a variety of temporal and spatial scales in a heterogeneous landscape. In lakes, fish communities are dynamic, influenced by landscape-level factors that control colonisation and extinction.

2. We used classification and regression tree (CART) analyses to quantify the importance of landscape-level factors in determining the distribution of fish species in 168 arctic Alaskan lakes. Factors including lake size, depth, outflow gradient, distance to other lakes, lake order, altitude, river drainage and age of glacial surface were analysed. These factors could affect either access of fish to a lake (colonisation variables), or their survival in a lake that already had been colonised (extinction variables).

3. The presence of a species was predicted accurately in 78.4% ± 10.5% (mean ± SD) of cases, and absence in 75.0% ± 6.1% of cases. The relative importance of extinction versus colonisation variables varied with species. Extinction variables were most important for lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) and slimy sculpin (Cottus cognatus), a mixture of extinction and colonisation variables was important for arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus), and colonisation variables were most important for arctic grayling (Thymallus arcticus) and round whitefish (Prosopium cylindraceum).

4. Ecological differences among species account for much of the difference in relative importance of colonisation versus extinction variables. In addition, stream piracy events have occurred over geologic time scales, which have resulted in lakes that are currently inaccessible but support relict fish populations.

5. Climate warming, currently occurring in the arctic, is likely to alter further the stream network, which could have dramatic effects on fish distributions by affecting access to isolated lakes or isolating lakes that are currently accessible.

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