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The migratory life history and physiology of arctic char, Salvelinus alpinus, navigating change in the Canadian North Open Access


Other title
global climate change
arctic fisheries
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Gilbert, Matthew JH
Supervisor and department
Tierney, Keith (Biological Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Vinebrooke, Rolf (Biological Sciences)
Tonn, Bill (Biological Sciences)
Department of Biological Sciences
Physiology, Cell and Developmental Biology
Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Science
Degree level
Global climate change (GCC) is most pronounced at higher latitudes; to what degree northern migratory fish species can tolerate this change remains largely unknown. Imminent effects of GCC on arctic rivers include warmer water temperatures and changes in the timing, frequency and magnitude of high and low flow events, all of which could reduce fish passage. Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus), are a salmonid species of great ecological, cultural, and subsistence value, and are among the fish species likely to be impacted by these changes. Based on this, my research aim was to identify life-history and physiological characteristics that would be likely to shape the ability of arctic char to cope with GCC. To this end, in chapter 2, I characterized alternative migratory life-history strategies that facilitate the existence of a char population in a harsh environment. The most significant of these strategies included the earliest documented return migration timing in the Canadian Arctic and a very low annual fidelity (near 0%) which together, reduced fishes exposure to even harsher conditions than those they already faced. In the physiological components of my research I took a comparative approach and conducted experiments on rainbow trout, a well-studied temperate reference species, in addition to arctic char. In chapter 3, I used laboratory simulations to identify potential physiological constraints on the migration of arctic char through current and future thermal regimes that include large diurnal temperature fluctuations. In chapter 4, I revealed transcriptional and biochemical responses of arctic char to these thermal regimes that were indicative of only partially successful compensatory responses in addition to severe heat-stress and disruption of biochemical processes. In chapter 4, I also verified the utility of a suite of transcripts as biomarkers for thermal stress in wild arctic char. Together my research suggests that arctic char possess life history and physiological traits that may make them more tolerant, and adaptable to GCC than previously thought but may still place them at a competitive disadvantage relative to more temperate species whose ranges are expanding northward.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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