Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 5641
Title: Disturbance of freshwater habitats by anadromous salmon in Alaska
Author: J. W. Moore, D. E. Schindler, M. D. Scheuerell
Publication Year: 2004
Journal: Oecologia
Volume: 139
Issue: 2
Pages: 298-308

 High densities of habitat modifiers can dramatically alter the structure of ecosystems.  Whereas spawning sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) dig nests that cover over 2 m2 and are at least 20 cm deep, and can spawn at high densities, relatively little attention has been devoted to investigating the impacts of this disturbance.  We hypothesized that this temporally and spatially predictable bioturbation has large impacts on the coastal aquatic habitats used by sockeye.  We experimentally investigated the impacts of disturbance caused by spawning sockeye in two streams and two lakes in Alaska by excluding salmon from 2.25–m2 plots where they traditionally spawn.  We sampled exclusions and control plots before, during, and after spawning.  During sockeye spawning, fine sediment accumulated in areas where sockeye were excluded from spawning.  In addition, sockeye spawning significantly decreased algal biomass by 80% compared to exclusion plots.  We found mixed effects of spawning on the invertebrate assemblage.  Tricladida and Chironomidae densities increased by 3x in exclusion plots relative to control plots in one creek site.  However, for most taxa and sites, invertebrate densities declined substantially as spawning progressed, regardless of experimental treatment.  Habitat modification by spawning salmon alters both community organization and ecosystem processes.

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