M J H Gilbert, L N Harris, B K Malley, A Schimnowski, J-S Moore, A P Farrell. 2020. The thermal limits of cardiorespiratory performance in anadromous Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus): a field-based investigation using a remote mobile laboratory. Conservation Physiology
Despite immense concern over amplified warming in the Arctic, physiological research to address related conservation issues for valuable cold-adapted fish, such as the Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus), is lacking. This crucial knowledge gap is largely attributable to the practical and logistical challenges of conducting sensitive physiological investigations in remote field settings. Here, we used an innovative, mobile aquatic-research laboratory to assess the effects of temperature on aerobic metabolism and maximum heart rate (fHmax) of upriver migrating Arctic char in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut in the central Canadian Arctic. Absolute aerobic scope was unchanged at temperatures from 4 to 16°C, while fHmax increased with temperature (Q10 = 2.1), as expected. However, fHmax fell precipitously below 4°C and it began to plateau above ~ 16°C, reaching a maximum at ~ 19°C before declining and becoming arrhythmic at ~ 21°C. Furthermore, recovery from exhaustive exercise appeared to be critically impaired above 16°C. The broad thermal range (~4–16°C) for increasing fHmax and maintaining absolute aerobic scope matches river temperatures commonly encountered by migrating Arctic char in this region. Nevertheless, river temperatures can exceed 20°C during warm events and our results confirm that such temperatures would limit exercise performance and thus impair migration in this species. Thus, unless Arctic char can rapidly acclimatize or alter its migration timing or location, which are both open questions, these impairments would likely impact population persistence and reduce lifetime fitness. As such, future conservation efforts should work towards quantifying and accounting for the impacts of warming, variable river temperatures on migration and reproductive success.