Habitat availability and ontogenetic niche shifts : The effects on adult size of lake-living brown trout (Salmo trutta)
Abstract: One common consequence of ontogenetic niche shifts is that juveniles and adults of the same species often use different resources and habitats. Theory suggests that variation in productivity and/or habitat size for the respective life stage regulates size distribution of individuals and population biomass. Low resources/habitat availability for juveniles relative to adults results in populations with many small juveniles with high mortality and few but large adults, while the opposite situation results in a population with small and slow growing adults with high densities. I tested this theory using lake-living brown trout (Salmo trutta), where adults inhabit lakes and use connected streams for spawning and nurseries for juveniles. My hypothesis was that the relative habitat availability for juveniles respectively adults determines the size structure of adult brown trout in lakes. This was done by quantifying available stream habitats in relation to lake area via GIS analysis of 101 allopatric brown trout lakes in Sweden and Norway. My results showed that the proportion of large trout, mean length and maximum length decreased with increasing juvenile habitat in relation to adult habitat availability. This suggests that relative variation in availability of juvenile and adult habitats can affect the size structure of lake-living brown trout, most likely due to size dependent niche shifts and competitive and cannibalistic interactions. As the lake brown trout is highly valued both for commercial and recreational purposes, these findings can be highly valuable for sustainable management of the ecosystems services that the brown trout provides.
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