Effects of Salmon-Derived Nutrients and Habitat Characteristics on Population Densities of Stream-Resident Sculpins

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
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Swain NR, Reynolds JD (2015) Effects of Salmon-Derived Nutrients and Habitat Characteristics on Population Densities of Stream-Resident Sculpins. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0116090. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0116090

Date created: 
Population density
Freshwater fish
Fresh water
Biomass (ecology)
Marine ecosystems

Movement of nutrients across ecosystem boundaries can have important effects on food webs and population dynamics. An example from the North Pacific Rim is the connection between productive marine ecosystems and freshwaters driven by annual spawning migrations of Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp). While a growing body of research has highlighted the importance of both pulsed nutrient subsidies and disturbance by spawning salmon, their effects on population densities of vertebrate consumers have rarely been tested, especially across streams spanning a wide range of natural variation in salmon densities and habitat characteristics. We studied resident freshwater prickly (Cottus asper), and coastrange sculpins (C. aleuticus) in coastal salmon spawning streams to test whether their population densities are affected by spawning densities of pink and chum salmon (O. gorbuscha and O. keta), as well as habitat characteristics. Coastrange sculpins occurred in the highest densities in streams with high densities of spawning pink and chum salmon. They also were more dense in streams with high pH, large watersheds, less area covered by pools, and lower gradients. In contrast, prickly sculpin densities were higher in streams with more large wood and pools, and less canopy cover, but their densities were not correlated with salmon. These results for coastrange sculpins provide evidence of a numerical population response by freshwater fish to increased availability of salmon subsidies in streams. These results demonstrate complex and context-dependent relationships between spawning Pacific salmon and coastal ecosystems and can inform an ecosystem-based approach to their management and conservation.

Document type: 
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)
Pacific Century Graduate Scholarship
Pacific Salmon Foundation
BC Leading Edge Fund