• Impacts of a top predator (Esox lucius) on salmonids in Southcentral Alaska: genetics, connectivity, and vulnerability

      Jalbert, Chase S.; Falke, Jeffrey; Westley, Peter; López, J. Andrés; Dunker, Kristine (2018-12)
      Worldwide invasion and range expansion of northern pike (pike; Esox lucius) have been linked to the decline of native fishes and new techniques are needed to assess the effects of invasion over broad geographic scales. In Alaska, pike are native north and west of the Alaska Mountain Range but were introduced into Southcentral Alaska in the 1950s and again in the 1970s. To investigate the history of the invasion into Southcentral Alaska, I identified 7,889 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from three native and seven introduced populations in Alaska and examined genetic diversity, structure, and affinities of native and invasive pike. Pike exhibited low genetic variability in native populations (mean heterozygosity = 0.0360 and mean π = 0.000241) and further reductions in introduced populations (mean heterozygosity = 0.0227 and mean π = 0.000131), which suggests a bottleneck following introduction. Population differentiation was high among some populations (global FST = 0.424; max FST = 0.668) when compared to other freshwater fishes. I identified five genetically distinct clusters of populations, consisting of three native groups, a single Susitna River basin invasive group, and a Kenai Peninsula group, with little evidence of admixture among groups. The extremely reduced genetic diversity observed in invasive northern pike populations does not appear to affect their invasion success as the species range Southcentral Alaska continues to expand. To assess the vulnerability of five species of Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) to the invasion, I combined intrinsic potential habitat modeling, connectivity estimates, and Bayesian networks across 22,875km of stream reaches in the Matanuska-Susitna basin, Alaska, USA. Pink salmon were the most vulnerable species, with 15.2% (2,458 km) of their range identified as "highly" vulnerable. They were followed closely by chum salmon (14.8%) and coho salmon (14.7%). Finally, analysis of the intersection of vulnerable salmon habitats revealed 1,001 km of streams that were highly vulnerable for all five Pacific salmon. This framework is easy to implement, adaptable to any species or region, and cost effective. With increasing threats of species introductions, fishery managers need new tools like those described here to efficiently identify critical areas shared by multiple species, where management actions can have the greatest impact.
    • The seasonal dynamics of coastal Arctic lagoons in Northwest Alaska

      Tibbles, Marguerite; Seitz, Andrew C.; Falke, Jeffrey A.; Prakash, Anupma; Robards, Martin D. (2018-12)
      Lagoons are zones of habitat transitions between freshwater and marine ecosystems, providing safe and productive feeding habitats for whitefishes in Northwest Alaska, important to subsistence users in the region. However, many important lagoon processes are not understood. Therefore, the goal of this thesis was to gain a baseline understanding of two important seasonal processes of lagoons in Northwest Alaska. First, I attempted to identify environmental processes correlated with Arctic lagoon breaching for three indicator lagoons that represent a range of environmental characteristics using generalized linear models (GLM) in an information theoretic approach and model averaging. Second, I developed a habitat suitability (HS) model to identify the range of physical conditions that whitefishes may experience if overwintering under ice of these lagoons during the Arctic winter, for the same three lagoons. The GLM model suggested that lagoon breaching day of year was slightly negatively related to day of year of river break-up, but other unconditional confidence intervals for the covariate parameters overlapped zero indicating considerable uncertainty in these estimates. Further data collection and monitoring in the region is needed to improve and verify lagoon breaching modelling results. The HS model indicated that lagoons have reduced suitability as whitefish habitat in winter due to loss of habitat due to the presence of bottomfast ice and a reduction of liquid water quality due to cold temperatures, high salinities and low dissolved oxygen levels. Importantly, small lagoons without freshwater inputs were potential sinks for fish populations. The results from this research will help the National Park Service and the Native Village of Kotzebue in a joint effort to understand and manage these important habitats that are critical for subsistence fisheries as the Arctic faces an uncertain future with climate change, oil spill threats, and increased coastal development.