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Loss of Potential Aquatic-Terrestrial Subsidies Along the Missouri River Floodplain

  • Jeff S. WesnerEmail author
  • David L. Swanson
  • Mark D. Dixon
  • Daniel A. Soluk
  • Danielle J. Quist
  • Lisa A. Yager
  • Jerry W. Warmbold
  • Erika Oddy
  • Tyler C. Seidel


The floodplains of large rivers have been heavily modified due to riparian development and channel modifications, both of which can eliminate shallow off-channel habitats. The importance of these habitats for aquatic organisms like fishes is well studied. However, loss of off-channel habitat also eliminates habitats for the production of emerging aquatic insects, which subsidize riparian consumers in terrestrial food webs. We used field collections of insect emergence, historical mapping, and statistical modeling to estimate the loss of insect emergence due to channel modifications along eight segments of the Missouri River (USA), encompassing 1566 river km, between 1890 and 2012. We estimate annual production of emerging aquatic insects declined by a median of 36,000 kgC (95% CrI: 3000 to 450,000) between 1890 and 2012 (a 34% loss), due to the loss of surface area in backwaters and related off-channel habitats. Under a conservative assumption that riparian birds obtain 24% of their annual energy budget from adult aquatic insects, this amount of insect loss would be enough to subsidize approximately 790,000 riparian woodland birds during the breeding and nesting period (May to August; 95% CrI: 57,000 to 10,000,000). Most of the loss is concentrated in the lower reaches of the Missouri River, which historically had a wide floodplain, a meandering channel, and a high density of off-channel habitats, but which were substantially reduced due to channelization and bank stabilization. Our results indicate that the loss of off-channel habitats in large river floodplains has the potential to substantially affect energy availability for riparian insectivores, further demonstrating the importance of maintaining and restoring these habitats for linked aquatic-terrestrial ecosystems.


aquatic-terrestrial linkages insect emergence floodplain ecological subsidies modeling 



Funding for this study was partially provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF-DEB Award 1837233, NSF-DEB Award 1560048, NSF-OIA Cooperative Agreement 1632810), and from the University of South Dakota. Dr. Malia Volke designed the study area map. Funding for GIS mapping was provided via contracts #W912HZ-12-2-0009 and #W912DQ-07-C-0011 from the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and a contract from the Louis Berger Group, Inc. For contract #W912HZ-12-2-0009, contracting to the University of South Dakota was facilitated through the Great Plains Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units (GP-CESU). Funding for bird work that supported the density estimates was provided by a Wildlife Diversity Small Grant from the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks and the two USACE contracts mentioned above. Additional support for Swanson and Dixon was provided by NSF EPSCoR Track II cooperative agreement # OIA-1632810. This study was conducted under the approval of the National Park Service (Permit #s: MNRR-2014-SCI-0004, MNRR-2015-SCI-0005, MNRR-2017-SCI-0003, MNRR-2018-SCI-0002). This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program to TCS under Grant No. NSF DBI-1839286. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 975 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeff S. Wesner
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • David L. Swanson
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mark D. Dixon
    • 1
    • 2
  • Daniel A. Soluk
    • 1
    • 2
  • Danielle J. Quist
    • 1
    • 4
  • Lisa A. Yager
    • 3
  • Jerry W. Warmbold
    • 1
  • Erika Oddy
    • 1
  • Tyler C. Seidel
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of South DakotaVermillionUSA
  2. 2.Missouri River InstituteUniversity of South DakotaVermillionUSA
  3. 3.National Park ServiceMissouri National Recreational RiverYanktonUSA
  4. 4.Biology DepartmentAnoka-Ramsey Community CollegeCoon RapidsUSA
  5. 5.Department of Ecology, Evolution and BehaviorUniversity of MinnesotaSaint PaulUSA

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