Trophic plasticity and the invasion of a renowned piscivore: a diet synthesis of northern pike (Esox lucius) from the native and introduced ranges in Alaska, U.S.A.

C. Nathan Cathcart, Kristine J. Dunker, Thomas P. Quinn, Adam J. Sepulveda, Frank A. von Hippel, Andrew Wizik, Daniel B. Young, Peter A.H. Westley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The invasion of non-native fishes is a leading cause of extinction and imperilment of native freshwater fishes. Evidence suggests that introduced species with generalist diets have the potential for greatest impacts through competition and predation even though populations are often comprised of specialist individuals. The northern pike (Esox lucius), a predatory fish, has been widely introduced outside its native range for recreational fishing purposes, especially in western North America, and it has been implicated in declines and extirpations of native fishes. We synthesized over 2900 individual northern pike diet records across 31 waterbodies from the native and introduced ranges in Alaska to quantify the extent of diet specialization and generalization relative to freshwater prey communities. To control for effects of ontogenetic diet shifts, we separately analyzed major size classes of northern pike and inferred and visualized trophic plasticity from prey-specific abundance indices and ordination. Diet generalization was common in northern pike among waterbodies and usually consisted of individuals consuming macroinvertebrates. However, when available, individual northern pike diets showed specialization on fishes, amphibians, small mammals, and dragonflies. The reliance on macroinvertebrate prey by northern pike from small, isolated lakes in the native and invasive ranges suggests that dietary plasticity facilitates persistence of these predators in the absence of preferred fish prey. Broadly, this synthesis supports the hypothesis that trophic plasticity and diet generalization widely occur among invasive and native populations of northern pike which is likely to enhance the probability of introduction success, exacerbate their environmental impacts, and complicate management of this potentially invasive freshwater predator.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1379-1392
Number of pages14
JournalBiological Invasions
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 15 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Alaska fishes
  • Community ecology
  • Diet
  • Northern pike
  • Trophic ecology
  • Trophic plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology

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