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Geomorphology controls the trophic base of stream food webs in a boreal watershed

Smits, Adrianne P., Schindler, Daniel E., Brett, Michael T.
Ecology 2015 v.96 no.7 pp. 1775-1782
Ephemeroptera, Trichoptera, algae, aquatic food webs, biomass, energy, fatty acids, geomorphology, invertebrates, landscapes, methanotrophs, organic matter, rivers, streams, sulfate-reducing bacteria, watersheds, Alaska
Physical attributes of rivers control the quantity and quality of energy sources available to consumers, but it remains untested whether geomorphic conditions of whole watersheds affect the assimilation of different resources by stream organisms. We compared the fatty acid (FA) compositions of two invertebrate taxa (caddisflies, mayflies) collected from 16 streams in southwest Alaska, USA, to assess how assimilation of terrestrial organic matter (OM) and algae varied across a landscape gradient in watershed features. We found relatively higher assimilation of algae in high‐gradient streams compared with low‐gradient streams, and the opposite pattern for assimilation of terrestrial OM and microbes. The strength of these patterns was more pronounced for caddisflies than mayflies. Invertebrates from low‐gradient watersheds had FA markers unique to methane‐oxidizing bacteria and sulfate‐reducing microbes, indicating a contribution of anaerobic pathways to primary consumers. Diversity of FA composition was highest in watersheds of intermediate slopes that contain both significant terrestrial inputs as well as high algal biomass. By controlling the accumulation rate and processing of terrestrial OM, watershed features influence the energetic base of food webs in boreal streams.