Biological Invasions

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 1379–1392 | Cite as

Trophic plasticity and the invasion of a renowned piscivore: a diet synthesis of northern pike (Esox lucius) from the native and introduced ranges in Alaska, U.S.A.

  • C. Nathan Cathcart
  • Kristine J. Dunker
  • Thomas P. Quinn
  • Adam J. Sepulveda
  • Frank A. von Hippel
  • Andrew Wizik
  • Daniel B. Young
  • Peter A. H. WestleyEmail author
Original Paper


The invasion of non-native fishes is a leading cause of extinction and imperilment of native freshwater fishes. Evidence suggests that introduced species with generalist diets have the potential for greatest impacts through competition and predation even though populations are often comprised of specialist individuals. The northern pike (Esox lucius), a predatory fish, has been widely introduced outside its native range for recreational fishing purposes, especially in western North America, and it has been implicated in declines and extirpations of native fishes. We synthesized over 2900 individual northern pike diet records across 31 waterbodies from the native and introduced ranges in Alaska to quantify the extent of diet specialization and generalization relative to freshwater prey communities. To control for effects of ontogenetic diet shifts, we separately analyzed major size classes of northern pike and inferred and visualized trophic plasticity from prey-specific abundance indices and ordination. Diet generalization was common in northern pike among waterbodies and usually consisted of individuals consuming macroinvertebrates. However, when available, individual northern pike diets showed specialization on fishes, amphibians, small mammals, and dragonflies. The reliance on macroinvertebrate prey by northern pike from small, isolated lakes in the native and invasive ranges suggests that dietary plasticity facilitates persistence of these predators in the absence of preferred fish prey. Broadly, this synthesis supports the hypothesis that trophic plasticity and diet generalization widely occur among invasive and native populations of northern pike which is likely to enhance the probability of introduction success, exacerbate their environmental impacts, and complicate management of this potentially invasive freshwater predator.


Trophic plasticity Northern pike Diet Community ecology Trophic ecology Alaska fishes 



We thank all the individuals who contributed to field work of specific projects that contributed to this synthesis and the financial support of those projects. In particular (but in no special order) we thank Stormy Haught, Harry Rich, Jr., Will Atlas, Eileen Audette, Jason Ching, Erik Schoen, Andy Johnsen, Keith Denton, Gretchen Theusen, Joshua Bishoff, Robert Massengill, David Rutz, Cody Jacobson, Adrian Baer, Kasaan Brandel, Kiche Brandel, Eric Hollerback, Don Reeves, Chris Sargent, Sarah Laske, and Matt Warnke for help in the field and fruitful discussions. Thanks to the University of Alaska, the Mat-Su Borough, the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund, and long-term support from the seafood industry, as well as the National Science Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Six anonymous reviewers greatly improved this manuscript. Any use of trade, product, or firm names does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Supplementary material

10530_2018_1909_MOESM1_ESM.docx (232 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 231 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. Nathan Cathcart
    • 1
    • 8
  • Kristine J. Dunker
    • 2
  • Thomas P. Quinn
    • 3
  • Adam J. Sepulveda
    • 4
  • Frank A. von Hippel
    • 5
  • Andrew Wizik
    • 6
  • Daniel B. Young
    • 7
  • Peter A. H. Westley
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Fisheries, College of Fisheries and Ocean SciencesUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA
  2. 2.Division of Sport FishAlaska Department of Fish and GameAnchorageUSA
  3. 3.School of Aquatic and Fishery SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  4. 4.U.S. Geological SurveyNorthern Rocky Mountain Science CenterBozemanUSA
  5. 5.Department of Biological Sciences and Center for Bioengineering InnovationNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  6. 6.Cook Inlet Aquaculture AssociationKenaiUSA
  7. 7.National Parks ServicePort AlsworthUSA
  8. 8.Freshwater Fish InventoryAlaska Department of Fish and GameAnchorageUSA

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