Polar Biology

, Volume 33, Issue 8, pp 1111–1123 | Cite as

Carbon sources for lake food webs in the Canadian High Arctic and other regions of Arctic North America

  • John Chételat
  • Louise Cloutier
  • Marc Amyot
Original Paper


We investigated the role of autochthonous and terrestrial carbon in supporting aquatic food webs in the Canadian High Arctic by determining the diet of the dominant primary consumer, aquatic chironomids. These organisms were studied in fresh waters on 3 islands of the Arctic Archipelago (~74–76°N) including barren polar desert watersheds and a polar oasis with lush meadows. Stomach content analysis of 578 larvae indicated that chironomids primarily ingested diatoms and sediment detritus with little variation among most genera. Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope mixing models applied to 2 lakes indicated that benthic algae contributed 68–95% to chironomid diet at a polar desert site and 70–78% at a polar oasis site. Detritus, originating from either phytoplankton or terrestrial sources, also contributed minor amounts to chironomid diet (0–32%). Radiocarbon measurements for the 2 lakes showed that old terrestrial carbon did not support chironomid production. Carbon stable isotope ratios of chironomids in other High Arctic lakes provided further dietary evidence that was consistent with mixing model results. These findings indicate that, in the Canadian High Arctic, chironomids (and fish that consume them) are supported primarily by benthic algae in both polar desert and oasis lakes. In contrast, our review of carbon flow studies for lakes in other Arctic regions of North America shows that terrestrial carbon and phytoplankton can be important energy sources for consumers. This study provides a baseline to detect future climate-related impacts on carbon pathways in High Arctic lakes.


Carbon pathways High Arctic Chironomidae Stable isotope analysis Radiocarbon Stomach contents 



This work was funded by NSERC and FQRNT postgraduate scholarships to JC and NSERC Discovery, FQRNT-Équipe, Science Horizon, and Northern Supplement grants to MA. Logistical support from the Polar Continental Shelf Project (PCSP) to MA is gratefully acknowledged. JC and MA received NSTP funds from INAC. Lake and drainage basin areas were determined by Jean Daoust. We thank Mélanie Bouffard for ancillary water quality analyses, Edenise Garcia, Alexandre Poulain and Pilipoosie Iqaluk for assistance in the field, and Dominic Bélanger for laboratory assistance. Two anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments on the manuscript. This paper is PCSP contribution 001-10.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Groupe de recherche interuniversitaire en limnologie, Département de sciences biologiquesUniversité de MontréalMontrealCanada
  2. 2.National Wildlife Research CentreEnvironment CanadaOttawaCanada
  3. 3.Collection entomologique Ouellet-Robert, Département de sciences biologiquesUniversité de MontréalMontrealCanada

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