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Long-term increases in young-of-the-year growth of Arctic cisco (Coregonus autumnalis) and environmental influences

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Full Publication:

Product Type: Government Publication
Year: 2011

Authors: von Biela, V. R., C. E. Zimmerman, and L. L. Moulton

Suggested Citation:
von Biela, V. R., C. E. Zimmerman, and L. L. Moulton. 2011. Long-term increases in young-of-the-year growth of Arctic cisco (Coregonus autumnalis) and environmental influences. Journal of Fish Biology 78(1):39-56. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8649.2010.02832.x


Arctic cisco Coregonus autumnalis young-of-year (YOY) growth was used as a proxy to examine the long-term response of a high-latitude fish population to changing climate from 1978 to 2004. YOY growth increased over time (r2 = 0·29) and was correlated with monthly averages of the Arctic oscillation index, air temperature, east wind speed, sea-ice concentration and river discharge with and without time lags. Overall, the most prevalent correlates to YOY growth were sea-ice concentration lagged 1 year (significant correlations in 7 months; 2 = 0·14-0·31) and Mackenzie River discharge lagged 2 years (significant correlations in 8 months; r2 = 0·13-0·50). The results suggest that decreased sea-ice concentrations and increased river discharge fuel primary production and that life cycles of prey species linking increased primary production to fish growth are responsible for the time lag. Oceanographic studies also suggest that sea ice concentration and fluvial inputs from the Mackenzie River are key factors influencing productivity in the Beaufort Sea. Future research should assess the possible mechanism relating sea ice concentration and river discharge to productivity at upper trophic levels.

Keywords: Arctic cisco, climate change, environmental influences, sea ice, otoliths, Arctic


Climate change effects on Arctic freshwater and nearshore ecosystems are expected to result in changes to temperature, hydrology, ice regimes, biogeochemical processes, trophic structure and food-web interactions, primary and secondary productivity and the distribution of species. How any single species or population responds to these changes will probably vary among locations and depend on the life history and range of habitats used. Diadromous species such as Arctic cisco that spawn in fresh waters and feed in marine waters integrate climate change effects across freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats and, thus, the total effect is expected to be significant. In Arctic cisco, changes in sea-ice concentrations and river discharge affect primary production, which then affects fish growth. As climate change impacts aquatic life, these populations may then shift home ranges or become more vulnerable to other changes in habitats or food sources.