Research Interests: Landscape ecology, community ecology, aquatic food webs, and the influence of extreme climates and hydrology on fish ecology
My research focuses primarily on three areas of fisheries research: aquatic food webs, community ecology, and effects of landscape processes and scale in Arctic and subarctic species and ecosystems. The rapidly changing climate in northern ecosystems is shifting the thermal landscape where species live, eliciting a biological response to that change. I am interested in how those changes will influence aquatic systems, including their species composition or diversity, trophic structure, or function. Often, however, there is little to no baseline information available, and study must begin with questions regarding species presence or assemblage composition. By using a suite of modeling tools, I can integrate data from individual fish, communities, and the environment in order to answer questions that are relevant to fishery managers, the public, and other stakeholder groups, while also adding to ecological understanding of high latitude ecosystems and communities.
2017 – Present Fish Biologist, USGS Alaska Science Center, Anchorage
2016 – 2017 Student trainee (Ecology), USGS Alaska Science Center, Anchorage
2011 – 2016 Graduate Research Assistant, Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks
2010 – 2011 Research Assistant, Department of Zoology and Physiology, University of Wyoming, Laramie
2007 – 2010 Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Zoology and Physiology, University of Wyoming, Laramie
2005 – 2007 Fisheries Technician, Illinois Natural History Survey, Lake Michigan Biological Station, Zion, IL
2003 – 2004 Fisheries Technician, Illinois Natural History Survey, Champaign, IL
Education and Certifications
Ph.D. 2017 University of Alaska, Fairbanks Fisheries
M.S. 2010 University of Wyoming, Laramie Zoology
B.S. 2004 University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Ecology, Ethology, and Evolution
Affiliations and Memberships*
American Fisheries Society
Society for Freshwater Science
Science and Products
Borealization of nearshore fishes on an interior Arctic shelf over multiple decades
Barrier islands influence the assimilation of terrestrial energy in nearshore fishes
Arctic insect emergence timing and composition differs across thaw ponds of varying morphology
A manipulative thermal challenge protocol for adult salmonids in remote field settings
Transcriptomic response to elevated water temperatures in adult migrating Yukon River Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)
Evidence of prevalent heat stress in Yukon River Chinook salmon
Diversity of diatoms, benthic macroinvertebrates, and fish varies in response to different environmental correlates in Arctic rivers across North America
Fish growth rates and lake sulphate explain variation in mercury levels in ninespine stickleback (Pungitius pungitius) on the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska
Surface water connectivity controls fish food web structure and complexity across local- and meta-food webs in Arctic Coastal Plain lakes
Circumpolar patterns of Arctic freshwater fish biodiversity: A baseline for monitoring
Generalist feeding strategies in Arctic freshwater fish: A mechanism for dealing with extreme environments
Nutrient dynamics in partially drained arctic thaw lakes
Does fish prey influence red-throated loon productivity?
Tracing Mercury Through Lake Food Webs
Arctic Lake Food Webs
Nearshore Fish Surveys in the Beaufort Sea
Fish and Aquatic Ecology
Arctic Coastal Plain Studies
Nearshore Fish Isotope Values, Beaufort Sea, Alaska, 2017-2019
Insect Emergence from Arctic Coastal Plain Thaw Ponds, 2012-2013
Fish Species Composition and Diet Information in Lakes of the Arctic Coastal Plain, Alaska, 2011-2013
Science and Products
Filter Total Items: 14
Borealization of nearshore fishes on an interior Arctic shelf over multiple decadesBorealization is a type of community reorganization where Arctic specialists are replaced by species with more boreal distributions in response to climatic warming. The process of borealization is often exemplified by the northward range expansions and subsequent proliferation of boreal species on the Pacific and Atlantic inflow Arctic shelves (i.e., Bering/Chukchi and Barents seas, respectively).AuthorsVanessa R. von Biela, Sarah M. Laske, Ashley E. Stanek, Randy J Brown, Kenneth H. Dunton
Barrier islands influence the assimilation of terrestrial energy in nearshore fishesWe examined the relative importance of landscape features on estuarine fish trophic structure and dependence on terrestrial organic matter (OMterr) in four barrier island lagoon systems along the Alaskan Beaufort Sea coast. Our study compared two relatively large lagoon systems characterized by high river discharge and relatively free ocean water exchanges (central region near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska)AuthorsAshley E. Stanek, Vanessa R. von Biela, Sarah M. Laske, Rebecca L. Taylor, Kenneth H. Dunton
Arctic insect emergence timing and composition differs across thaw ponds of varying morphologyFreshwater ponds provide habitats for aquatic insects that emerge and subsidize consumers in terrestrial ecosystems. In the Arctic, insects provide an important seasonal source of energy to birds that breed and rear young on the tundra. The abundance and timing of insect emergence from arctic thaw ponds is poorly understood, but understanding these fluxes is important, given the role of insects inAuthorsSarah M. Laske, Kirsty E. B. Gurney, Joshua C. Koch, Joel A. Schmutz, Mark S. Wipfli
A manipulative thermal challenge protocol for adult salmonids in remote field settingsManipulative experiments provide stronger evidence for identifying cause-and-effect relationships than correlative studies, but protocols for implementing temperature manipulations are lacking for large species in remote settings. We developed an experimental protocol for holding adult Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and exposing them to elevated temperature treatments. The goal of the eAuthorsDaniel S. Donnelly, Vanessa R. von Biela, Stephen D. McCormick, Sarah M. Laske, Michael P. Carey, Shannon C. Waters, Lizabeth Bowen, Randy J Brown, Sean Larson, Christian E. Zimmerman
Transcriptomic response to elevated water temperatures in adult migrating Yukon River Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) declines are widespread and may be attributed, at least in part, to warming river temperatures. Water temperatures in the Yukon River and tributaries often exceed 18°C, a threshold commonly associated with heat stress and elevated mortality in Pacific salmon. Untangling the complex web of direct and indirect physiological effects of heat stress on salmon iAuthorsLizabeth Bowen, Vanessa R. von Biela, Stephen D. McCormick, Amy M. Regish, Shannon C. Waters, Blythe Durbin-Johnson, Monica Britton, Matt Settles, Daniel S. Donnelly, Sarah M. Laske, Michael P. Carey, Randy J Brown, Christian E. Zimmerman
Evidence of prevalent heat stress in Yukon River Chinook salmonMigrating adult Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) are sensitive to warm water (>18 °C), with a range of consequences from decreased spawning success to early mortality. We examined the proportion of Yukon River Chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha) exhibiting evidence of heat stress to assess the potential that high temperatures contribute to freshwater adult mortality in a northern Pacific salmon popuAuthorsVanessa R. von Biela, Lizabeth Bowen, Stephen D. McCormick, Michael P. Carey, Daniel S. Donnelly, Shannon C. Waters, Amy M. Regish, Sarah M. Laske, Randy J Brown, Sean Larson, Stan Zuray, Christian E. Zimmerman
Diversity of diatoms, benthic macroinvertebrates, and fish varies in response to different environmental correlates in Arctic rivers across North AmericaClimate change poses a significant threat to Arctic freshwater biodiversity, but impacts depend upon the strength of organism response to climate‐related drivers. Currently, there is insufficient knowledge about Arctic freshwater biodiversity patterns to guide assessment, prediction, and management of biodiversity change.As part of the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program's first freshwaterAuthorsJennifer Lento, Sarah M. Laske, Isabelle Lavoie, Daniel Bogan, Bob Brua, Stéphane Campeau, Krista Chin, Joseph M. Culp, Brianna Levenstein, Michael Power, Émilie Saulnier-Talbot, Rebecca Shaftel, Heidi K. Swanson, Matthew Whitman, Christian E. Zimmerman
Fish growth rates and lake sulphate explain variation in mercury levels in ninespine stickleback (Pungitius pungitius) on the Arctic Coastal Plain of AlaskaMercury concentrations in freshwater food webs are governed by complex biogeochemical and ecological interactions that spatially vary and are often mediated by climate. The Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska (ACP) is a heterogeneous, lake-rich landscape where variability in mercury accumulation is poorly understood. Earlier research indicated that the level of catchment influence on lakes varied spatiAuthorsSamantha M. Burke, Christian E. Zimmerman, Sarah M. Laske, Joshua C. Koch, Allison M. Derry, Stephanie Guernon, Brian A. Branfireun, Heidi K. Swanson
Surface water connectivity controls fish food web structure and complexity across local- and meta-food webs in Arctic Coastal Plain lakesThe need for theories that address food web assembly and complexity over multiple spatial scales are critical to understanding their stability and persistence. In a meta-food web – an integrated network of local food webs – spatial heterogeneity in physical processes may have profound effects on food web function and energy flow. In the Arctic, surface water connectivity plays a vital role in deteAuthorsSarah M. Laske, Amanda E. Rosenberger, Mark S. Wipfli, Christian E. Zimmerman
Circumpolar patterns of Arctic freshwater fish biodiversity: A baseline for monitoringClimate change, biological invasions, and anthropogenic disturbance pose a threat to the biodiversity and function of Arctic freshwater ecosystems. Understanding potential changes in fish species distribution and richness is necessary, given the great importance of fish to the function of freshwater ecosystems and as a resource to humans. However, information gaps limit large-scale studies and ourAuthorsSarah M. Laske, Per-Arne Amundsen, Kirsten Christoffersen, Jaakko Erkinaro, Guðni Guðbergsson, Brian Hayden, Jani Heino, Kerstin Holmgren, Kimmo K. Kahilainen, Jennifer Lento, Panu Orell, Johan Östergren, Michael Power, Ruslan Rafikov, Atso Romakkaniemi, Martin-A. Svenning, Heidi K. Swanson, Matthew Whitman, Christian E. Zimmerman
Generalist feeding strategies in Arctic freshwater fish: A mechanism for dealing with extreme environmentsGeneralist feeding strategies are favoured in stressful or variable environments where flexibility in ecological traits is beneficial. Species that feed across multiple habitat types and trophic levels may impart stability on food webs through the use of readily available, alternative energy pools. In lakes, generalist fish species may take advantage of spatially and temporally variable prey by coAuthorsSarah M. Laske, Amanda E. Rosenberger, Mark S. Wipfli, Christian E. Zimmerman
Nutrient dynamics in partially drained arctic thaw lakesThaw lakes are ubiquitous on arctic coastal plains (ACPs). While many thaw lakes have steep banks, stable water levels, and static surface areas, others only partially fill their basins and vary in area over the summer. These partially drained lakes (PDLs) are hydrologically connected to the wetlands immediately surrounding them. Heat and nutrient availability limit aquatic productivity on ACPs, aAuthorsJoshua C. Koch, Tom F. Fondell, Joel A. Schmutz, Sarah M. Laske
Does fish prey influence red-throated loon productivity?This study will evaluate the nearshore marine feeding areas of breeding adult red-throated loons and assess the response of loon reproductive success to differences in the relative abundance, composition, and nutritional content of nearshore fish communities that vary in space and time.
Tracing Mercury Through Lake Food WebsMercury concentrations in fish likely reflect different energy sources in lake food webs. Species, populations, or individuals may contain higher and variable concentrations of mercury, which may relate directly to prey mercury content, diets of fish, and fish foraging strategies.
Arctic Lake Food WebsFrom 2011 to 2013 we investigated freshwater food webs of Arctic Coastal Plain lakes in Alaska to improve our understanding how Arctic freshwater food webs may respond to landscape change the warmer, drier future.
Nearshore Fish Surveys in the Beaufort SeaNearshore systems provide habitat to a unique community of marine and diadromous (lives in both fresh and saltwater) fish and support high fish abundance.
Fish and Aquatic EcologyFish and aquatic habitats in Alaska support important commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries and provide forage fish that support wildlife populations. The USGS Alaska Science Center conducts interdisciplinary research to inform local, state, federal, and international policy makers regarding conservation of fish, aquatic species, and their habitats. We work collaboratively with hydrologists...
Arctic Coastal Plain StudiesThe Arctic Coastal Plain (ACP) is a large region of low-lying, lake-rich land on the North Slope of Alaska. This region is underlain by thick ground ice, which is susceptible to erosion and thaw. These physical changes are likely to alter ecosystems by changing the availability of habitats and food resources upon which wildlife depends. Our studies on the ACP aim to understand the link between...
Nearshore Fish Isotope Values, Beaufort Sea, Alaska, 2017-2019This dataset contains isotope values of muscle tissue from fish collected in the nearshore Beaufort Sea, Alaska in summers 2017-2019.
Insect Emergence from Arctic Coastal Plain Thaw Ponds, 2012-2013This dataset provides information on the identity and number of insects that emerged from thaw pond basins on the central Arctic Coastal Plain, Alaska, during the summer growing season in 2012 and 2013. Collections were made using passive floating emergence traps in pond centers and margins from four types of ponds: low centered polygons, troughs, small coalescent, and large coalescent. A single t
Fish Species Composition and Diet Information in Lakes of the Arctic Coastal Plain, Alaska, 2011-2013This dataset provides information on fish species composition and their diet information for 16 lakes and 16 ponds at two locations on the central Arctic Coastal Plain, Alaska. In one table, we provide the presence of fish species and the total species count for each lake or pond sampled. This table also includes metrics of surface water connectivity to the stream network. In a second table, stoma
*Disclaimer: Listing outside positions with professional scientific organizations on this Staff Profile are for informational purposes only and do not constitute an endorsement of those professional scientific organizations or their activities by the USGS, Department of the Interior, or U.S. Government