The movement of nutrients across ecosystem boundaries can affect recipient ecosystems at individual, population, and community levels. This is particularly the case when more productive systems subsidize less productive ones, where subsidies can sustain and enhance populations in nutrient-poor recipient environments. One prominent example of this is the annual migration of salmon from the marine environment into low-productivity freshwater streams for spawning. This thesis uses data collected from 47 near-pristine streams on the central coast of British Columbia to study spawning chum (Oncorhynchus keta) and pink (O. gorbuscha) salmon and the ecological implications of their nutrient subsidy, focusing on stream-rearing juvenile coho salmon (O. kisutch). While considering a broad suite of habitat characteristics, the strongest predictors of juvenile coho size and abundance were spawning chum and pink salmon abundance. Streams with more spawning chum salmon had larger coho, while streams with more spawning pink salmon had higher coho populations. Further, the evidence suggested the negative association between juvenile coho and their intraguild predators/competitors, sculpin (Cottus aleuticus and C. asper), may be reduced as more spawning salmon nutrients became available. Altogether, this thesis shows strong impacts of marine-derived nutrient subsidies to freshwater ecosystems at multiple ecological scales. In general, it provides insights into the ecological mechanisms by which species interact with their environments, the potential for nutrient subsidies to affect recipient populations through changing food supply and predator-prey dynamics, and the role of multi-trophic interactions in subsidized trophic cascades. In specific, this research improves our understanding of the potential positive feedback between different species of salmon while incorporating the importance of multiple habitat characteristics. This has the potential to inform conservation and ecosystem-based management, particularly in light of the drastic decline in spawning salmon abundance in northern Pacific regions.
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Thesis advisor: Reynolds, John
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