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Antagonistic effects of temperature and dissolved organic carbon on fish growth in California mountain lakes

  • Global change ecology – original research
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Resources and temperature play major roles in determining biological production in lake ecosystems. Lakes have been warming and ‘browning’ over recent decades due to climate change and increased loading of terrestrial organic matter. Conflicting hypotheses and evidence have been presented about whether these changes will increase or decrease fish growth within lakes. Most studies have been conducted in low-elevation lakes where terrestrially derived carbon tends to dominate over carbon produced within lakes. Understanding how fish in high-elevation mountain lakes will respond to warming and browning is particularly needed as warming effects are magnified for mountain lakes and treeline is advancing to higher elevations. We sampled 21 trout populations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California to examine how body condition and individual growth rates, measured by otolith analysis, varied across independent elevational gradients in temperature and dissolved organic carbon (DOC). We found that fish grew faster at warmer temperatures and higher nitrogen (TN), but slower in high DOC lakes. Additionally, fish showed better body condition in lakes with higher TN, higher elevation and when they exhibited a more terrestrial δ13C isotopic signature. The future warming and browning of lakes will likely have antagonistic impacts on fish growth, reducing the predicted independent impact of warming and browning alone.

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We thank R. Knapp and S. Sadro for helpful discussions. We thank N. Mladenov for fluorescence spectral acquisition and EEM analysis, and A. Noto, N. Jones, S. Forster, A. Pedroza, B. Zgliczynski, M. Quon, C. Banach and B. Semmens for help in the field and laboratory. This manuscript was improved by comments from J. Piovia-Scott. Funding was provided by a National Science Foundation DEB grant to JBS (NSF-DEB Award 1457737), a Brazilian Federal Agency CAPES (CAPES/13768-13-1) graduate scholarship to HBC, a National Science Foundation GRFP to MAS, a National Science and Engineering Research Council PGS-D and a UC San Diego FISP to CCS. The work was performed in part at the University of California Valentine Eastern Sierra Reserve.

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CCS and JBS developed the research questions and designed the sampling protocols. CCS completed the analyses and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. JBS, MAS and HBC aided in data collection and the writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Celia C. Symons.

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Communicated by Robert O. Hall.

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Symons, C.C., Schulhof, M.A., Cavalheri, H.B. et al. Antagonistic effects of temperature and dissolved organic carbon on fish growth in California mountain lakes. Oecologia 189, 231–241 (2019).

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