Predator-Driven Nutrient Recycling in California Stream Ecosystems

Robin G. Munshaw, Wendy J. Palen, Danielle M. Courcelles, Jacques C. Finlay

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16 Scopus citations


Nutrient recycling by consumers in streams can influence ecosystem nutrient availability and the assemblage and growth of photoautotrophs. Stream fishes can play a large role in nutrient recycling, but contributions by other vertebrates to overall recycling rates remain poorly studied. In tributaries of the Pacific Northwest, coastal giant salamanders (Dicamptodon tenebrosus) occur at high densities alongside steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and are top aquatic predators. We surveyed the density and body size distributions of D. tenebrosus and O. mykiss in a California tributary stream, combined with a field study to determine mass-specific excretion rates of ammonium (N) and total dissolved phosphorus (P) for D. tenebrosus. We estimated O. mykiss excretion rates (N, P) by bioenergetics using field-collected data on the nutrient composition of O. mykiss diets from the same system. Despite lower abundance, D. tenebrosus biomass was 2.5 times higher than O. mykiss. Mass-specific excretion summed over 170 m of stream revealed that O. mykiss recycle 1.7 times more N, and 1.2 times more P than D. tenebrosus, and had a higher N:P ratio (8.7) than that of D. tenebrosus (6.0), or the two species combined (7.5). Through simulated trade-offs in biomass, we estimate that shifts from salamander biomass toward fish biomass have the potential to ease nutrient limitation in forested tributary streams. These results suggest that natural and anthropogenic heterogeneity in the relative abundance of these vertebrates and variation in the uptake rates across river networks can affect broad-scale patterns of nutrient limitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere58542
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 8 2013


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