• Marine-derived nutrients in riverine ecosystems: developing tools for tracking movement and assessing effects in food webs on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

      Rinella, Daniel J. (2010-05)
      Marine-derived nutrients (MDN) delivered by spawning Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) contribute to the productivity of riverine ecosystems. Optimizing methods for measuring MDN assimilation in food webs will foster the development of ecologically based resource management approaches. This dissertation aims to better understand relationships among spawning salmon abundance, biochemical measures of MDN assimilation, and the fitness of stream-dwelling fishes. The goals of my first research chapter were (1) to understand the factors that influence stable isotope ([delta]¹³C, [delta]¹⁵N, and [delta]³⁴S) and fatty acid measures of MDN assimilation in stream and riparian biota, and (2) to examine the ability of these measures to differentiate among sites that vary in spawning salmon biomass. For all biota studied, stable isotopes and fatty acids indicated that MDN assimilation increased with spawner abundance. Among Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma), larger individuals assimilated proportionately more MDN. Seasonal effects were detected for aquatic macroinvertebrates and riparian horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile), but not for Dolly Varden. Of all dependent variables, Dolly Varden [delta]¹⁵N had the clearest relationship with spawner abundance, making this a good measure for monitoring MDN assimilation. Expanding on these results, two chapters examined potential fisheries management applications. The first sought to identify spawner levels above which stream-dwelling Dolly Varden and coho salmon (O. kisutch) parr cease to gain physiological benefits associated with MDN. RNA-DNA ratios (an index of recent growth rate) and energy density indicated saturation responses where values increased rapidly with spawner abundance up to approximately 1 kg/m² and then leveled off. In coho salmon parr, energy density and RNA-DNA ratios correlated significantly with [delta]¹⁵N. These results show strong linkages between MDN and fish fitness responses, while the saturation points may indicate spawner densities that balance salmon harvest with the ecological benefits of MDN. The second application tested a quick and inexpensive method for estimating, spawning salmon abundance based on [delta]¹⁵N in stream-dwelling fishes. Estimates made with coho salmon pair were unbiased, tightly correlated with observed values, and had a mean absolute deviation of 1.4 MT spawner biomass/km. Application of this method would allow estimates of annual escapement to be made on a potentially large number of streams.