The abiotic and biotic controls of arctic lake food webs: a multifaceted approach to quantifying trophic structure and function




Lakes are sensitive to the surrounding climate and can respond rapidly to change. Arctic lakes may be particularly vulnerable to climate change due to overall low productivity and species diversity, and further, the Arctic is warming faster than any other region of the globe. While we can predict how fishes might respond to a warmer climate, we require a better understanding of 1) how their food resources (e.g., zooplankton) may respond; and, 2) how interannual variability (e.g., growing season length or ice-free period) may affect fish growth and condition, especially going into and coming out of harsh arctic winters. We seek to improve our understanding of these areas through a combination of experimentation, observation (including long-term data), and modeling. Additionally, we will investigate factors that structure arctic lake food webs. On the North Slope, Alaska, criteria derived from geomorphic constraints of the landscape regulate fish distribution of relatively few species. However, beyond this coarse filter, there is a surprising amount of variation in trophic structure (e.g., top predator, maximum size) given the low species diversity. Trophic structure is likely a function of complex interactions that are partially determined by surface water connectivity. However, in the face of a changing climate, predictable patterns of lake trophic structure may become unpredictable and new fish community structures may emerge. To better understand these structures and patterns, we will use stable isotopes, genetics, and eDNA to extend our predictions to lakes across the North Slope. Overall, the results of this project will help guide species conservation and subsistence management in Alaskan arctic lakes in the face of a changing climate.


  • National Science Foundation
  • USU Ecology Center
  • US Geological Survey – Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit (In-kind)


  • Phaedra Budy, Principle Investigator, USGS – UCFWRU, USU- Dept. of Watershed Sciences and the Ecology Center
  • Stephen Klobucar, Ph.D. Candidate, USU – Dept. of Watershed Sciences and the Ecology Center
  • Nick Barrett, PhD Candidate, USU – Dept. of Watershed Sciences and the Ecology Center

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