Date of this Version
Freshwater Biology (2012) 57, 2342–2355; doi:10.1111/fwb.12014
1. Declining abundances of forage fish and the introduction and establishment of non-indigenous species have the potential to substantially alter resource and habitat exploitation by top predators in large lakes.
2. We measured stable isotopes of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) in field-collected and archived samples of Lake Ontario lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) and five species of prey fish and compared current trophic relationships of this top predator with historical samples.
3. Relationships between δ15N and lake trout age were temporally consistent throughout Lake Ontario and confirmed the role of lake trout as a top predator in this food web. However, δ13C values for age classes of lake trout collected in 2008 ranged from 1.0 to 3.9‰ higher than those reported for the population sampled in 1992.
4. Isotope mixing models predicted that these changes in resource assimilation were owing to the replacement of rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax) by round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) in lake trout diet and increased reliance on carbon resources derived from nearshore production. This contrasts with the historical situation in Lake Ontario where δ13C values of the lake trout population were dominated by a reliance on offshore carbon production.
5. These results indicate a reduced capacity of the Lake Ontario offshore food web to support the energetic requirements of lake trout and that this top predator has become increasingly reliant on prey resources that are derived from nearshore carbon pathways.