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Stream geomorphology regulates the effects on periphyton of ecosystem engineering and nutrient enrichment by Pacific salmon
- HOLTGRIEVE, GORDON W., SCHINDLER, DANIEL E., GOWELL, CONRAD P., RUFF, CASEY P., LISI, PETER J.
- Freshwater biology 2010 v.55 no.12 pp. 2598-2611
- Algae, Oncorhynchus, biomass, ecosystem engineering, geomorphology, habitats, nests, nitrogen, nutrients, particle size, particle size distribution, periphyton, phosphorus, primary productivity, rocks, salmon, spawning, stable isotopes, streams, surveys, Alaska
- 1. Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) returning to streams deliver substantial quantities of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) that may stimulate primary production. Salmon can also affect the phytobenthos negatively via physical disturbance during nest excavation, a process that may counteract the positive effects of salmon‐derived nutrients on benthic algae. The ability of salmon to disturb benthic habitats may be a function of substratum particle size, and therefore, the geomorphology of streams could determine the net effect of salmon on benthic communities. 2. Based on surveys of 17 streams in southwest Alaska before the salmon run and during peak salmon density, we identified size thresholds for the disturbance of substratum particles by salmon and classified particles as vulnerable (<60 mm B‐axis), invulnerable (>110 mm) or transitional (61-110 mm). At the scale of individual rocks, algal biomass on vulnerable substrata decreased at peak spawning (relative to values before the run) as a power function of salmon density; transitional and invulnerable substrata showed no quantifiable pattern. However, invulnerable substrata in streams with more than 0.11 salmon m⁻² showed net algal accrual, or relatively smaller declines in algal biomass, than vulnerable substrata, indicating that large rocks provide refuge for benthic algae from salmon disturbance. 3. We expected that streams with proportionally larger rocks would respond positively to salmon at the whole‐stream scale, after accounting for the relative abundance of rocks of different sizes within streams. Invulnerable rocks made up only 0-12% of the total substratum particle size distribution in salmon‐bearing streams, however, and algal accrual on invulnerable substrata did not outweigh the strong disturbance effects on the more spatially extensive vulnerable substrata. The change in whole‐stream benthic algal biomass among streams was negatively related to salmon density. 4. Stable isotopes of nitrogen (δ¹⁵N) were used to track nutrients from salmon into benthic biota. Periphyton δ¹⁵N on rocks of all size classes was higher at peak salmon spawning than before the salmon run, indicating the uptake of salmon‐derived nitrogen. Peak δ¹⁵N values were positively related to salmon abundance and followed a two‐isotope mixing relationship. The per cent of N from salmon in periphyton was also related to salmon density and was best explained by a saturating relationship. Spring δ¹⁵N was unrelated to salmon returns in the previous year, suggesting little annual carryover of salmon nutrients.