Pacific Salmon: Ecology and Management of Western Alaska’s Populations

Food Supplies of Stream-Dwelling Salmonids

Mark S. Wipfli

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874110.ch4

Abstract.—Much is known about the importance of the physical characteristics of salmonid habitat in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, with far less known about the food sources and trophic processes within these habitats, and the role they play in regulating salmonid productivity. Freshwater food webs supporting salmonids in Alaska rely heavily on nutrient, detritus, and prey subsidies from both marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Adult salmon provide a massive input of marine biomass to riverine ecosystems each year when they spawn, die, and decompose, and are a critical food source for young salmon in late summer and fall; riparian forests provide terrestrial invertebrates to streams, which at times comprise over half of the food ingested by stream-resident salmonids; up-slope, fishless headwater streams are a year-round source of invertebrates and detritus for fish downstream. The quantity of these food resources vary widely depending on source, season, and spatial position within a watershed. Terrestrial invertebrate inputs from riparian habitats are generally the most abundant food source in summer. Juvenile salmonids in streams consume roughly equal amounts of freshwater and terrestrially-derived invertebrates during most of the growing season, but ingest substantial amounts of marine resources (salmon eggs and decomposing salmon tissue) when these food items are present. Quantity, quality, and timing of food resources all appear to be important driving forces in aquatic food web dynamics, community nutrition, and salmonid growth and survival in riverine ecosystems.