Pacific herring and salmon: ecological interactions across the land-sea interface

Date

2013-08-13

Authors

Fox, Caroline Hazel

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Abstract

Ecosystems are linked by spatial subsidies, the bi-directional flows of nutrients, materials and energy that cross ecosystem boundaries. Considered one of the planet’s most productive and diverse meta-ecosystems, the broad interface between land and sea is crossed by innumerable abiotic and biotic spatial subsidies, including migratory animals. Routinely crossing ecological boundaries, migrants play significant roles in subsidizing receiving ecosystems, including influencing ecosystem productivity, diversity, community structure and trophic cascades. On the Pacific coast of North America, spatial subsidies driven by migratory Pacific salmon have been intensively studied. Like many of the world’s migrants, however, salmon populations have declined considerably and most of our scientific knowledge has been gained from a diminished subsidy. Other subsidies, including those driven by migratory species in decline, remain relatively unknown. Each year, Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) migrate to shallow waters to spawn on nearshore and intertidal substrates. Despite suggestions in the literature that herring, an abundant, nearshore/intertidal spawning forage fish, subsidizes coastal ecosystems, there had been no investigation of cross-ecosystem interactions. Just as stable isotopes and fatty acids have been used to explore wrack (drift macrophytes) subsidies to intertidal ecosystems, we combined both approaches to trace the input of Pacific herring and wrack to semi-terrestrial amphipods (Traskorchestia spp.), which are highly abundant detritivores in beach ecosystems. Brown algae and seagrass were major contributors to amphipods but when available, herring was also a significant resource. Because amphipods are prey for terrestrial consumers, including bears (Ursus spp.), we also identified indirect trophic linkages between herring and terrestrial ecosystems. Bears are major consumers and vectors of salmon into terrestrial ecosystems, but little is known regarding their involvement in other spatial subsidies. Using a model-based inference approach paired with remote cameras to monitor intertidal black bear (U. americanus) activity, we determined that the best predictors of black bear intertidal activity were major intertidal prey items (herring and amphipod biomass) and Julian day. Bears positively responded to herring and amphipod biomass on beaches but it was the analysis of scats that determined the contribution of herring eggs to the diets of bears. In 2010, the herring spawn was relatively poor and consumption of eggs was negligible, with amphipods constituting a major portion of bear diets. In following years, herring egg loading was relatively high and eggs were the dominant dietary item in bear scats. Tracing the contribution of herring into terrestrial areas proved challenging and instead, we furthered knowledge of the within-watershed spatiotemporal influences of salmon on conifer tree ring growth and δ15N signatures. Both tree ring growth and δ15N signatures tracked the known spatial distribution of salmon carcasses. Using a model-based inference approach, salmon abundance and interaction terms of salmon*temperature and salmon*distance into the forest best predicted tree growth. In contrast, salmon abundance was not a leading predictor of δ15N. By broadening our understanding of the fine-scale influence of salmon on a stand of ancient trees, this research is expected to contribute to future exploration of the terrestrial influences of Pacific herring.

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Keywords

spatial subsidy, Pacific herring, spawn, salmon, Amphipoda, black bear, fatty acids, stable isotopes, conifer

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