Winter behavior of brown trout: the presence of ice cover influences activity, stress and growth

Early Lunch Talk by Johan Watz from Karlstad University, Sweden.

Predation on fish by mammals and birds may be high during winter in boreal streams, and juvenile salmonids respond by reducing their daytime activity to minimize exposure. Surface ice may offer protection from terrestrial predators, and salmonids under ice cover should spend less time on anti-predator behaviors and increase their activity. Using brown trout as a test species, these predictions were tested in laboratory and field experiments.
In an artificial laboratory stream, the presence of ice cover reduced stress and increased swimming activity, foraging and aggression. The effect of ice cover on activity was greatest for trout with high resting metabolic rates, suggesting that individual intraspecific differences in metabolism may influence the strategies used to cope with different winter conditions. In a boreal forest stream, we simulated ice by suspending plastic sheeting over five 30-m-long stretches, and trout that spent winter under this simulated ice cover grew better than trout in control stretches. These results may explain why salmonid production is high in rivers with long periods of stable ice cover and should be viewed in light of ongoing global warming.
Published Apr. 13, 2015 11:52 AM - Last modified Apr. 13, 2015 11:52 AM