, Volume 13, Issue 7, pp 1020-1034
Date: 17 Sep 2010

Quantitative Links Between Pacific Salmon and Stream Periphyton

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Abstract

Species’ impacts on primary production can have strong ecological consequences. In freshwater ecosystems, Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) may influence stream periphyton through substrate disturbance during spawning and nutrient subsidies from senescent adults. The shape of relationships between the abundance of spawning salmon and stream periphyton, as well as interactions with environmental variables, are incompletely understood and may differ across the geographic range of salmon. We examined these relationships across 24 sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) spawning streams in north-central British Columbia, Canada. The influence of salmon abundance and environmental variables (temperature, light, dissolved nutrients, water velocity, watershed size, and invertebrate grazer abundance) on post-spawning periphyton abundance and nitrogen stable isotope signatures, which can indicate the uptake of salmon nitrogen, was evaluated using linear regression models and Akaike Information Criterion. Periphyton nitrogen stable isotope signatures were best described by a positive log-linear relationship with an upstream salmon abundance metric that includes salmon from earlier years. This suggests the presence of a nutrient legacy. In contrast, periphyton abundance was negatively related to the spawning-year salmon density, which likely results from substrate disturbance during spawning, and positively related to dissolved soluble reactive phosphorus prior to spawning, which may indicate phosphorus limitation in the streams. These results suggest that enrichment from salmon nutrients does not always translate into elevated periphyton abundance. This underscores the need to directly assess the outcome of salmon impacts on streams rather than extrapolating from stable isotope evidence for the incorporation of salmon nutrients into food webs.

Author contributions

JJV and JDR designed the study, JJV and DCB performed the research, JJV analyzed the data, DCB contributed to the statistical methods and JJV and JDR wrote the paper.