Aquatic Sciences

, Volume 76, Issue 4, pp 623–632 | Cite as

Habitat influences Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) tissue decomposition in riparian and stream ecosystems

  • Janine RüeggEmail author
  • Courtney M. Currier
  • Dominic T. Chaloner
  • Scott D. Tiegs
  • Gary A. Lamberti
Research Article


Decomposition incorporates organic material delivered by Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) into aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems of streams where salmon spawn. We hypothesized that salmon tissue decomposition would be faster, and macroinvertebrate abundance and biomass higher, in terrestrial compared to aquatic habitats, and this would be reflected in the nutritional quality of the tissue. Salmon tissue in coarse-mesh bags was placed in four habitats [terrestrial: riparian (RIP), gravel bars (GRA); aquatic: stream sediment surface (STR), buried in sediments (BUR)] in four southeast Alaska watersheds. After 2 (RIP, GRA) or 4 (STR, BUR) weeks of decomposition, tissue dry mass, macronutrient content, and macroinvertebrate colonizer abundance and biomass were determined. Overall, tissue decomposition was rapid (mean k = 0.088 day−1), while nutritional quality remained high based on elemental ratios (mean C:N = 4.9; C:P = 140; N:P = 30), and differed among habitats (Linear-mixed effects model p < 0.05). Macroinvertebrate assemblages colonizing carcasses were unique to each habitat, although Diptera generally dominated. In terrestrial habitats, the dominant macroinvertebrates were Sphaeroceridae (96 % of invertebrate abundance in RIP habitat) and Calliphoridae larvae (98 % in GRA habitat). In aquatic habitats, the dominant macroinvertebrates were Chironomidae (48 % in STR habitat) and Chloroperlidae (72 % in BUR habitat). Macroinvertebrate colonizer abundance and biomass were higher in RIP (mean 286 individuals and 22 mg g−1) than in other habitats (mean 4 individuals and 3 mg g−1) (Friedman p < 0.05). Rapid decomposition rates and high invertebrate biomass, combined with the high nutritional quality of tissue, suggest rapid incorporation of critical salmon nutrients and energy into both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.


Organic matter Stoichiometry Carcass decomposition Habitat heterogeneity Pacific salmon 



We thank Jim Junker, Susan Meyer, Peter Levi, and Emily Campbell for assistance in the field; Emily Campbell and Rich Merritt for help with invertebrate identification; Mike Brueseke for help with P analyses; the University of Notre Dame (UND) Center for Environmental Science and Technology team for use of the elemental analyzer and help with C and N analyses; Aaron Prussian, Katherine Prussian, and Steve McCurdy for valuable insights into streams on Prince of Wales Island; Dave D’Amore, Jacob Berkowitz, Erik Norberg, Rick Edwards, Mike Brueseke, and Susanne Hebbeler for logistical support; Chris Jerde for statistical advice; and members of the UND Stream Ecology Laboratory and the anonymous reviewers for improvements to this manuscript. We also thank the Thorne Bay and Craig Ranger Districts (USDA Forest Service) for their collaboration and support of this project. Research was conducted in accordance with protocols approved by the University of Notre Dames Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (Protocol #06-086). This research was supported by the USDA-CSREES National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program (Managed Ecosystems Program 2006-35101-16566) and the Pacific Northwest Research Station (USDA Forest Service) Aquatic-Land Interactions Program. CMC was supported by a UND College of Science Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship.


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janine Rüegg
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Courtney M. Currier
    • 1
    • 3
  • Dominic T. Chaloner
    • 1
  • Scott D. Tiegs
    • 1
    • 4
  • Gary A. Lamberti
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  2. 2.Division of BiologyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA
  3. 3.School of Life Sciences, Arizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesOakland UniversityRochesterUSA

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