U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Ecology of Freshwater Fish 2012: 21: 337–348; doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0633.2012.00554.x.


We sampled three limnetic fish species: juvenile sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka), three-spine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) and longfin smelt (Spirinchus thaleichthys) in Lake Washington to quantify species-specific patterns of diel vertical migration (DVM). Catch-per-unit-effort data analysed from 15 years of midwater trawling documented seasonal and diel differences in vertical distributions for each species. These results were consistent with the hypothesis that the patterns of DVM in Lake Washington were affected by life history, size and morphology. Sockeye salmon showed clear DVM in spring but essentially no DVM in fall, remaining in deep water, whereas three-spine sticklebacks were prevalent at the surface at night in both seasons. In fall, distribution patterns may be explained by differences in thermal performance (e.g., sticklebacks favouring warm water), but the patterns were also consistent with inter-specific differences in predation risk. Younger sockeye salmon and longfin smelt were present in greater proportions higher in the water column during dusk and night periods than older conspecifics. Compared with sockeye salmon, the greater use by three-spine sticklebacks of surface waters throughout the diel cycle during weak thermal stratification in spring was consistent with the hypothesis that sticklebacks’ armour reduces predation risk, but use of this warmer, metabolically beneficial stratum may also have promoted growth. This study illustrates variation in the vertical distribution of three sympatric planktivores and offers broader implications for the DVM phenomenon and applied lake ecology.