Using movement, diet, and genetic analyses to understand Arctic charr responses to ecosystem change

David Côté* (Corresponding Author), J. Brian Dempson, Michael Piersiak, Kara Layton, S. Roul, R. Laing, J. Angnatok, Ian R. Bradbury

*Corresponding author for this work

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Arctic charr are a commercially and culturally valued species to northern Indigenous peoples. Climate shifts could have important implications for charr and those that rely on them, but studies that evaluate responses to ecosystem change and the spatial scales at which they occur are rare. We compare marine-phase habitat use, long-term diet patterns, and trends in effective population size of Arctic charr from 2 areas (Nain and Saglek) of Nunatsiavut, Labrador, Canada. Tagged charr in both areas frequently occupied estuaries but some also used other habitats that extended to the headland environments outside of their natal fjords. Despite the relatively small distances separating these study areas (<200 km), we observed differences in habitat use and diet. Northern stocks (including Saglek) were more reliant on invertebrates than southern stocks for which capelin and sand lance were important prey. The use of coastal headlands also varied, with Saglek charr occupying these environments more frequently than those from Nain, which only used these habitats in one year of the study. Long-term commercial catches also indicate that the tendency for Nain charr to stay within fjords varies annually and relates to capelin availability. Despite the demonstrated capacity to alter diet and habitat use to changing environmental conditions, notable declines in effective population size were associated with the regime shift of the 1990s in the northwest Atlantic. Collectively, these results demonstrate that behavioral plasticity of Arctic charr may be insufficient to deal with the large environmental perturbations expected to arise from a changing climate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-149
Number of pages15
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note


The extensive datasets used in this study were reliant on the dedication and innovation of many residents of Nunatsiavut (Food Skills and Environmental Research Program), technicians and biologists from DFO (J. Seiden, D. Lancaster, M. Shears, M. Bloom, S. Duffy), the Nunatsiavut Government (P. McCarney, C. Andersen, L. Pijogge), Oceans North (S. Pain), and of the captains and crew of the What’s Happening and the Safe Passage. Suggestions by three anonymous reviewers also greatly improved the manuscript. Funding for this research was provided in part by ArcticNet and DFO Oceans.


  • diet
  • telemetry
  • effective population size
  • long-term monitoring
  • Labrador
  • Nunatsiavut


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