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Ecology. 2008 Feb;89(2):306-12.

Habitat saturation drives thresholds in stream subsidies.

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  • 1School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA. jonathan.moore@noaa.gov


Understanding how abundance regulates the effects of organisms on their ecosystems remains a critical goal of ecology, especially for understanding inter-ecosystem transfers of energy and nutrients. Here we examined how territoriality and nest-digging by anadromous salmon mediate trophic subsidies to stream fishes. Salmon eggs become available for consumption primarily by the digging of salmon that superimpose their nests on previous nests. An individual-based model of spawning salmon predicted that territoriality and habitat saturation produce a nonlinear effect of salmon density on numbers of available eggs to resident predators. Field studies in Alaskan streams found that higher densities of salmon produce disproportionately more eggs in stream drift and in diets of resident fishes (Arctic grayling and rainbow trout). Bioenergetics model simulations indicated that these subsidies produce substantially enhanced growth rates of trout. These results demonstrate that small changes in salmon abundance can drive large changes in subsidies to stream food webs. Thus, the ecological consequences of population declines of keystone species, such as salmon, will be exacerbated when behavior generates nonlinear impacts.

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