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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The influence of physical habitat structure on invertebrate drift and Pacific salmon production in forest streams Naman, Sean Murphy


Untangling the mechanisms linking the physical world to ecological processes is paramount for effectively conserving and restoring habitat for threatened species. Pacific salmon rearing in small streams have been particularly well studied in this regard given that physical habitat features (e.g., velocity) strongly influence their performance and that habitat alteration is a major cause of their decline in many areas. However, despite strong evidence that stream salmonids are food limited, we lack commensurate understanding of how habitat influences their food supply - suspended invertebrates drifting downstream (invertebrate drift). Consequently, the mechanisms linking physical habitat structure to salmonid production remain unclear. My dissertation attempts to address this issue. First, in Chapter 2, I review and synthesize the mechanisms underlying invertebrate drift, discuss potential caveats in methodology, and identify key knowledge gaps. I particularly highlight how the physical and behavioural processes governing drift entry are highly dependent on context-specific abiotic and biotic attributes (e.g., hydraulics, individual condition). In Chapter 3, I use flow manipulation experiments to show that some of this context dependency can be explained by considering behavioural and morphological traits of invertebrate taxa, which underlie their tendencies to drift behaviourally or passively; for instance, body shape predicted the magnitude of responses to increased flows. In Chapter 4, I show that aggregate community-level drift rates vary spatially in streams over scales relevant to individual drift-feeding salmonids. Specifically, I measured spatially explicit rates of drift production, demonstrating that shallow high velocity riffles and deep low velocity pools form distinct sources and sinks of drift within stream networks. In Chapter 5 I build on this result to show that drift generation in riffles coupled with strong preferences for low velocity pools by salmonids leads to maximum fish production occurring in habitats with intermediate ratios of pool-riffle areas; in essence, a trade-off between increasing space but declining food as pool area increases. I extend these results with bioenergetic simulations to show that the shape of this trade-off is sensitive to alternative modes of prey delivery (e.g., aerial inputs of terrestrial invertebrates), which may be decoupled from in-stream habitat conditions.

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