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Individual specialization and trophic adaptability of northern pike (Esox lucius): an isotope and dietary analysis


Northern pike (Esox lucius) are often considered to be specialist piscivores, but under some circumstances will continue to eat invertebrates as adults. To examine effects of fish assemblage composition on the trophic ecology of pike, we combined stable isotope analysis (SIA) of carbon and nitrogen and stomach content analysis (SCA) on pike from five lakes in northern Alberta, three of which contain only pike (“pike-only”) and two that also contain yellow perch (Perca flavescens) or white sucker (Catostomus commersoni) (“pike-other”). Fish were more important as prey and empty stomachs, which often characterize piscivores, were significantly more frequent in pike-other than in pike-only lakes. However, even though invertebrates were more important for pike in pike-only lakes, SIA and SCA indicated that invertebrates were also an important component of pike diets in pike-other lakes. SIA and SCA also revealed considerable intrapopulation variation in trophic ecology, with individuals in some populations differing by as much as two trophic levels. Comparisons of stomach contents and isotope signatures of the same fish suggested that within these variable populations, specialization on invertebrates or fish was a long-term trait of some individuals. SIA indicated that trophic position increased and diets shifted to a greater importance of littoral prey as pike grew in pike-only lakes, but not in lakes with other fish present. Trophic adaptability in northern pike is expressed at both the population level, where the trophic ecology is sensitive to differences in prey regimes, and at the organismal level, in the form of intrapopulation variation and individual specialization.

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Received: 1 July 1998 / Accepted: 3 February 1999

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Beaudoin, C., Tonn, W., Prepas, E. et al. Individual specialization and trophic adaptability of northern pike (Esox lucius): an isotope and dietary analysis. Oecologia 120, 386–396 (1999).

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  • Key wordsEsox lucius
  • Individual variation
  • Stable isotope analysis
  • Stomach content analysis
  • Trophic adaptability