Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 8602
Title: Evaluating the consequences of salmon nutrients for riparian organisms: linking condition metrics to stable isotopes
Author: Carmella Vizza, Beth L. Sanderson, Holly J. Coe, Dominic T. Chaloner
Publication Year: 2017
Journal: Ecology and Evolution
Volume: 7
Issue: 5
Pages: 1313-1324

Stable isotope ratios (δ13C and δ15N) have been used extensively to trace nutrients from Pacific salmon, but salmon transfer more than carbon and nitrogen to stream ecosystems, such as phosphorus, minerals, proteins, and lipids.  To examine the importance of these nutrients, metrics other than isotopes need to be considered, particularly when so few studies have made direct links between these nutrients and how they affect riparian organisms.  Our study specifically examined δ13C and δ15N of riparian organisms from salmon and non-salmon streams in Idaho, USA, at different distances from the streams, and examined whether the quality of riparian plants and the body condition of invertebrates varied with access to these nutrients.  Overall, quality and condition metrics did not mirror stable isotope patterns.  Most notably, all riparian organisms exhibited elevated δ15N in salmon streams, but also with proximity to both stream types suggesting that both salmon and landscape factors may affect δ15N.  The amount of nitrogen incorporated from Pacific salmon was low for all organisms (<20%) and did not correlate with measures of quality or condition, probably due to elevated δ15N at salmon streams reflecting historical salmon runs instead of current contributions.  Salmon runs in these Idaho streams have been declining, and associated riparian ecosystems have probably seen about a 90% reduction in salmon-derived nitrogen since the 1950s.  In addition, our results support those of other studies that have cautioned that inferences from natural abundance isotope data, particularly in conjunction with mixing models for salmon-derived nutrient percentage estimates, may be confounded by biogeochemical transformations of nitrogen, physiological processes, and even historical legacies of nitrogen sources.  Critically, studies should move beyond simply describing isotopic patterns to focusing on the consequences of salmon-derived nutrients by quantifying the condition and fitness of organisms putatively using those resources.


The nutrients that Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchusspp.) bring to freshwater streams influence adjacent riparian and terrestrial ecosystems, which are often traced through the food web using stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen.

The main goal of our study was to determine whether the quality or condition of terrestrial organisms is affected by inputs of salmon derived nutrients.

Our results indicate that inputs of salmon do not currently increase the quality of riparian plants or the body condition of riparian invertebrates in these ecosystems, and that the stable isotope patterns among streams may reflect historical inputs of salmon.

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Theme: Recovery and rebuilding of marine and coastal species
Foci: Describe the relationships between human activities and species recovery, rebuilding and sustainability.
Characterize the population biology of species, and develop and improve methods for predicting the status of populations.