Arctic charr in sympatry with burbot: ecological and evolutionary consequences
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The trophic niche and parasite infection of Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) were explored in two lakes with sympatric burbot (Lota lota) and two lakes without burbot in subarctic Norway. The CPUE of burbot and charr were similar in one lake, but burbot had a low population density in the other. Burbot were benthivorous in both lakes. Other co-occurring species like brown trout (Salmo trutta), Atlantic salmon parr (Salmo salar), grayling (Thymallus thymallus) and minnow (Phoxinus phoxinus) were also benthivores. At high densities, benthivorous burbot forced the whole Arctic charr population to utilise mainly the limnetic trophic niche. In contrast, at low burbot density or without burbot present, Arctic charr were primarily benthivorous in the littoral zone. Thus, a clear interactive segregation in diet was observed between Arctic charr and burbot at high burbot densities. There was also a high predation pressure from burbot on young Arctic charr along the benthic zones. The extensive use of zooplankton as prey caused a high parasite infection pressure of copepod transmitted Diphyllobothrium spp. larvae, with the potential for high negative impact on the Arctic charr population. As the benthivore trophic niche was occupied by burbot, the ecological opportunities for polymorphism with benthivorous ecotypes or morphs of Arctic charr were probably prevented. Therefore, the sympatry with burbot seems to have large ecological and evolutionary consequences for this Arctic charr population compared with neighbouring lakes where burbot is absent.