Trophic basis of invertebrate production in a Northern Rockies stream with recent willow recovery

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Ecologists have long recognized that ecosystems are not isolated in the landscape and can receive inputs of energy, materials, and organisms from beyond their boundaries. The role of these inputs for consumers in receiving ecosystems depends on biotic and abiotic characteristics of both the donor and recipient ecosystems. In streams, the influence of leaf litter input from terrestrial environments on stream structure and function has received much study. Recently, riparian vegetation in Yellowstone National Park has undergone increases in growth and distribution in many areas, however the implications for food webs of adjacent stream ecosystems has remained unexplored. In this study, we combined stable isotope ratios of food web components with estimates of invertebrate secondary production to measure the relative importance of terrestrial organic matter and algae to stream invertebrate production. We found stable isotope ratios of terrestrial litter were relatively constant throughout the annual cycle. In contrast, algae showed varying patterns of enrichment and depletion likely driven by changes in light, discharge, and sources of dissolved carbon and nitrogen. Mean annual secondary production was 7.5 g AFDM m -² y -¹ (95% CI; 7.0-8.2), and the majority of this production was supported by stream algae (58%; terrestrial detritus supported 42%). Invertebrate production varied seasonally, with >50% of annual production occurring between July and September. Relatively high quality algae supported the majority of production during this critical growth period characterized by warm temperatures and high NPP. Terrestrial litter supported the majority of invertebrate production (57%) during cold months between October and May, when stream NPP and metabolic demands of invertebrate consumers were low. Our findings demonstrate that high quality resources support invertebrate production during periods of high metabolic demand, while terrestrial litter provides an abundant resource to support invertebrate consumer production when higher quality resources are scarce and metabolism is reduced. This study provides a quantitative measure of the importance of allochthonous and autochthonous resources to an invertebrate community of a northern Rocky Mountain stream, and provides a benchmark to assess the potential impacts of changing riparian vegetation on streams within the northern Rocky Mountains.




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