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Ecosystem size and flooding drive trophic dynamics of riparian spiders in a fire-prone Sierra Nevada river system

Jackson, Breeanne K., Sullivan, S. Mažeika P.
Canadian journal of fisheries and aquatic sciences 2018 v.75 no.2 pp. 308-318
Tetragnathidae, aquatic food webs, canopy, ecosystems, floods, mountains, regression analysis, rivers, subsidies, topographic slope, watersheds, wildfires, California
Disturbance can play an important role in structuring stream food webs. Although floods have received the greatest attention as a disturbance agent in rivers, wildfire — which can strongly influence fluvial ecosystem structure and function — may also drive consumer trophic dynamics. We measured the relative effects of wildfire, hydrologic disturbance, ecosystem size, and canopy openness (as a proxy for in-stream productivity) on trophic position and reliance on aquatically-derived nutritional subsidies of riparian spiders of the family Tetragnathidae along two rivers on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada in California, USA. Ecosystem size received strong support as an environmental determinant of both trophic measures, with variability in flood magnitude emerging as an important mechanism linking ecosystem size and trophic responses. Piecewise linear regression revealed significant breakpoints in spider trophic position and reliance on aquatically-derived nutritional subsidies that were related to thresholds in fire extent within the catchment. These nonlinear relationships with wildfire may lend additional insight into the potential interactions among ecosystem size, productivity, and disturbance that determine stream–riparian food-web architecture.