• Trophic ecology of nearshore fishes in glacially-influenced estuaries of Southeast Alaska

      Whitney, Emily Jean; Beaudreau, Anne H.; Bergstrom, Carolyn A.; Howe, Emily R. (2016-08)
      Estuaries in Southeast Alaska (SEAK) are linked to terrestrial ecosystems by the flow of freshwater from plentiful precipitation and glacial runoff. This thesis examined the trophic ecology of nearshore fishes in SEAK estuaries to advance our understanding of how deglaciation and resulting shifts in the timing and magnitude of freshwater runoff will affect estuarine food webs. The goals of this work were to characterize seasonal variation in the feeding ecology of an abundant estuarine predator across three glacially-influenced sites and to examine the relative contribution of organic matter (OM) from terrestrial-riverine sources to the diets of estuarine consumers. In chapter one, stomach contents of Pacific staghorn sculpin (Leptocottus armatus) were analyzed to test the hypothesis that diets would differ across sampling sites and months, reflecting variation in freshwater runoff and the phenology of estuarine organisms. Stomach contents of staghorn sculpins were collected monthly between April and September 2014, from intertidal sites at mouths of rivers that differ in their headwater hydrology. Staghorn sculpins consumed a variety of prey, including gammarids, mysids, isopods, polychaetes, and other freshwater-tolerant prey, as well as juvenile fish. Weak to moderate differences observed in diet composition across sites and months likely reflected spatial and seasonal shifts in the occurrence of freshwater-tolerant invertebrates and young-of-the-year fishes. Overall, the ability of staghorn sculpins to take advantage of a variety of prey across variable conditions may make them resilient to environmental change. In chapter two, I examined trophic linkages between terrestrial and marine food webs by using stable isotope analysis to evaluate the relative contribution of terrestrial-riverine OM to the diets of estuarine consumers. Analyses showed limited use of terrestrial-riverine OM by marine fishes (Leptocottus armatus and Platichthys stellatus) and more variable use by anadromous fishes (Salvelinus malma and Oncorhynchus kisutch). Intertidal invertebrates used more terrestrial-riverine OM than fish, with greater use of allochthonous OM earlier in the summer. Despite the documented availability of terrestrial-riverine OM, estuarine consumers showed limited use of this resource. These findings inform our baseline understanding of trophic linkages in glacially-influenced estuaries, a critical first step in evaluating future climate driven changes to coastal ecosystems.