Potential shifts in zooplankton community structure in response to changing ice regimes and hydrologic connectivity

Changing Arctic climate may alter freshwater ecosystems as a result of warmer surface waters, longer open-water periods, reduced wintertime lake ice growth, and altered hydrologic connectivity. This study aims to characterize zooplankton community composition and size structure in the context of hydrologic connectivity and ice regimes in Arctic lakes. Between 2011 and 2016, we sampled the phytoplankton, zooplankton, and fish communities from a set of representative lakes on the Arctic Coastal Plain (ACP) of northern Alaska to determine potential food web responses to changing Arctic ecosystems. Multivariate analyses showed that time from ice-out had a strong influence on zooplankton community structure and that seasonal succession of zooplankton differed between lakes with varying hydrologic connectivity. Trends were observed suggesting that large-bodied zooplankton (Daphnia, calanoid copepods) may be more prevalent in poorly connected lakes with low fish diversity. Large-bodied zooplankton displayed higher biomass in lakes with high occurrences of bedfast ice, while small-bodied zooplankton (Bosmina, rotifers) displayed highest biomass in deeper lakes with low occurrences of bedfast ice. Our results contribute to limited knowledge of zooplankton in remote lakes of the ACP and suggest that the anticipated changes to aquatic ecosystems in the Arctic may include energetically less efficient plankton food webs.