Detrital food web contributes to aquatic ecosystem productivity and rapid salmon growth in a managed floodplain

TitleDetrital food web contributes to aquatic ecosystem productivity and rapid salmon growth in a managed floodplain
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsJeffres, C., Holmes E., Sommer T., & Katz J. V. E.
AbstractSimilar to many large river valleys globally, the Sacramento River Valley has been extensively drained and leveed, hydrologically divorcing river channels from most floodplains. Today, the former floodplain is extensively managed for agriculture. Lack of access to inundated floodplains is recognized as a significant contributing factor in the decline of native Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). We observed differences in salmon growth rate, invertebrate density, and carbon source in food webs from three aquatic habitat types—leveed river channels, perennial drainage canals in the floodplain, and agricultural floodplain wetlands. Over 23 days (17 February to 11 March, 2016) food web structure and juvenile Chinook Salmon growth rates were studied within the three aquatic habitat types. Zooplankton densities on the floodplain wetland were 53x more abundant, on average, than in the river. Juvenile Chinook Salmon raised on the floodplain wetland grew at 0.92 mm/day, 5x faster than fish raised in the adjacent river habitat (0.18 mm/day). Two aquatic-ecosystem modeling methods were used to partition the sources of carbon (detrital or photosynthetic) within the different habitats. Both modeling approaches found that carbon in the floodplain wetland food web was sourced primarily from detrital sources through heterotrophic pathways, while carbon in the river was primarily photosynthetic and sourced from in situ autotrophic production. Hydrologic conditions typifying the ephemerally inundated floodplain— shallower depths, warmer water, longer water residence times and predominantly detrital carbon sources compared to deeper, colder, swifter water and a predominantly algal-based carbon source in the adjacent river channel—appear to facilitate the dramatically higher rates of food web production observed in the floodplain. These results suggest that hydrologic patterns associated with seasonal flooding facilitate river food webs to access floodplain carbon sources that contribute to highly productive heterotrophic energy pathways important to the production of fisheries resources.
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