Introduced lake trout alter nitrogen cycling beyond Yellowstone Lake

Lusha M. Tronstad, Robert O. Hall, Todd M. Koel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Introduced predators can have large effects on the ecosystem in which they were introduced, but how much these effects extend to other ecosystems beyond the invaded one is less known. We compared how lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) affected nutrient cycling in an invaded and adjacent ecosystem in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. Introduced lake trout in Yellowstone Lake caused the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout (Oncoryhynchus clarkii bouvieri ) population to decline. Native cutthroat trout are a dominant animal in the lake and may alter nutrient cycling in both Yellowstone Lake where they reside and in tributary streams used for spawning. We estimated changes in nutrient transport and nutrient uptake in both Yellowstone Lake and Clear Creek, a spawning stream, before and after the invasion of lake trout. Annual area-specific excretion fluxes from cutthroat trout were nine times higher in Clear Creek compared to Yellowstone Lake when cutthroat trout were abundant. However, fluxes within the lake and stream were similar after cutthroat trout declined. In Yellowstone Lake, zooplankton excretion supplied 86% of ammonium (NH4+) that was taken up, but cutthroat trout only supplied ,0.3% after the introduction of lake trout. Conversely, NH4+ excreted by cutthroat trout was likely a major flux in Clear Creek, because NH4+ fluxes from cutthroat trout exceeded watershed export of NH4+ in years when .3000 cutthroat trout spawned. Furthermore, NH4+ excretion fluxes from spawning cutthroat trout in Clear Creek supplied up to 6.1% of the NH4+ demanded by microbes after the introduction of lake trout. However, based on modeled past NH4+ uptake, we estimated that up to 60% of NH4+ excreted by spawning cutthroat trout may have been taken up by stream microbes when cutthroat trout were abundant. Therefore, transported NH4+ from spawning cutthroat trout was likely an integral part of N cycling in tributary streams in the past. By comparing the effects of declining cutthroat trout on two ecosystems, we show that lake trout had a larger effect on N cycling within an adjacent stream ecosystem than the invaded lake ecosystem itself, because the migratory behavior of cutthroat trout concentrated them in spawning streams increasing their effect.

Original languageEnglish
Article number224
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


  • Benthic-pelagic coupling
  • Diet
  • Excretion
  • Invasive species
  • Nitrogen
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Nutrient transport
  • Nutrient uptake
  • Phosphorus
  • Spawning
  • Stream
  • Yellowstone cutthroat trout


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