skip to main content

Attention:

The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 5:00 PM ET until 11:00 PM ET on Friday, June 21 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.


Title: Reweaving river food webs through time
Abstract

Our project sought to determine ecological effects of adding low‐head dams and levees to large rivers by examining potential changes to aquatic food webs over a 70‐year period in the Lower Ohio River (LOR) and Upper Mississippi River (UMR).

We employed museum collections of fish and compound specific stable isotope analysis of amino acids to evaluate long‐term changes in primary food sources for multiple species of fish in each river.

Fishes in both rivers depended more on autochthonous than allochthonous carbon sources throughout the 70‐year period (based on measurements of isotopic signatures of algae, C3plants, C4plants, cyanobacteria, and fungi), but the relative use of different carbon sources differed between the UMR and LOR. Significant but opposite shifts in trophic positions (TP) between rivers over time (higher TP in the UMR; lower in the LOR) were correlated with major anthropogenic changes to habitat structure (e.g. slight decrease in abundance of side channels in the UMR; increase in pool water depth in the LOR) resulting from low‐head dam construction. They may also have been influenced by likely increased primary productivity in the UMR from agricultural nitrogen inputs and by possible shifts in the importance of phytoplankton versus benthic algae in the LOR from changes in water depth. Shifts in trophic position and reliance on various food sources were not correlated with variation in discharge, gage height, or temperature.

Although these two rivers have contrasting hydrogeomorphic complexity (UMR is an anastomosing river, while the LOR is a constricted channel river) and different discharge patterns (seasonal versus yearly operation in some cases), both differ substantially from rivers having hydrogeomorphic changes resulting from construction of high dams (>15 m). It is not surprising, therefore, that factors controlling trophic position and reliance on different carbon sources vary among different types of dams and river structures.

 
more » « less
NSF-PAR ID:
10458755
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley-Blackwell
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Freshwater Biology
Volume:
65
Issue:
3
ISSN:
0046-5070
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 390-402
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Dams are often removed from rivers to restore habitat connectivity for biota such as fish. Removal of inland dams is well studied in temperate mainland rivers but this approach has been little studied in fish assemblages in islands, tropic systems, or for dams near the mouth of the river. In Puerto Rico, one of the most intensively dammed territories in the world, all native river fishes migrate between fresh water and the sea, and previous work shows that these movements are impeded or blocked by dams.

    Fish assemblages were compared before and after removal of the Cambalache dam, a porous, low‐head structure near the mouth of the Río Grande de Arecibo, as well as in two other rivers in western Puerto Rico, one with a similarly sized and positioned dam, and one reference river without artificial barriers. Fish were sampled using backpack electrofishing on 39 occasions during 2017–2019, including seven samples collected after removal of the Cambalache dam, at four to six sites per river.

    Fish assemblages upstream from dams were poorer in species, and species richness showed a marginal tendency (p = 0.0515) to increase upstream of the Cambalache dam 3 months after its removal. The two small lowland dams studied herein limited the upstream extent of marine species, which recolonised upstream sites of the Río Grande de Arecibo after removal of the Cambalache dam. An estimate of relative density (catch per unit effort) of common native freshwater species was higher above these two dams, and decreased at upstream sites after removal of the Cambalache dam. The estimated relative density of a native freshwater species that is of conservation concern, the American eel (Anguilla rostrata), was reduced above dams, and increased upstream of the former Cambalache dam after its removal.

    In extensive surveys conducted previously in Puerto Rico, sampling was concentrated higher in the catchment, and native fishes were more common and abundant below than above dams. The present work was conducted near the river mouth, and opposite results were observed. These contrasting results suggest that the effects of dams (or dam removal) on fish assemblages vary along the river gradient, although data from other systems are needed to confirm this.

    The present results suggest low‐head dam removal to be a viable method of restoring connectivity in fish assemblages in lower reaches of rivers in Puerto Rico and, potentially, other tropical islands. Removal of dams near the mouth of the river appears to be of particular benefit to marine fish species that use lower river reaches.

     
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Migratory fishes exert important influences on tropical river food webs, but these species are often most vulnerable to environmental change. Movement patterns of fishes in tropical rivers are also generally poorly understood, hindering conservation efforts.

    Common snook,Centropomus undecimalis,depend on connected coastal habitats for reproduction and growth and can migrate extensively up rivers when not hindered by barriers to movement. In southern Mexico, they are frequently captured 300 river km or more upstream from the delta of the Usumacinta River. The Usumacinta is a large river system with no mainstem dams, providing an expansive network of connected river, stream and wetland habitats which form a much larger migratory domain that exists in many other systems where common snook have been studied.

    To assess whether fish captured in different zones were associated with different natal habitats or distinct migratory patterns, variation in common snook otolith chemical signatures was examined in the Usumacinta River from the Gulf of Mexico coast to as far as 600 river km upriver.

    Otolith microchemistry was useful for characterizing migratory histories of individuals, but there was no clear evidence that fish captured in different river zones used different types of natal habitats. Based on lifetime Sr:Ca in otoliths, a diverse array of movement patterns was evident in the Usumacinta system, with 97% of common snook showing evidence of freshwater habitat use.

    Prevalent use of riverine habitats by common snook far from the coast reinforces the need to preserve connectivity in the Usumacinta River and other undammed systems supporting migratory species. The natural flow regime and lack of barriers allow for longitudinal and lateral connectivity in this system, providing pathways for migratory species to move extensively and have access to an array of habitats, including productive floodplain lagoons.

     
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Compound‐specific stable isotope analysis of individual amino acids (CSIA‐AA) has emerged as a transformative approach to estimate consumer trophic positions (TPCSIA) that are internally indexed to primary producer nitrogen isotope baselines. Central to accurate TPCSIAestimation is an understanding of beta (β) values—the differences between trophic and source AA δ15N values in the primary producers at the base of a consumers’ food web. Growing evidence suggests higher taxonomic and tissue‐specificβvalue variability than typically appreciated.

    This meta‐analysis fulfils a pressing need to comprehensively evaluate relevant sources ofβvalue variability and its contribution to TPCSIAuncertainty. We first synthesized all published primary producer AA δ15N data to investigate ecologically relevant sources of variability (e.g. taxonomy, tissue type, habitat type, mode of photosynthesis). We then reviewed the biogeochemical mechanisms underpinning AA δ15N andβvalue variability. Lastly, we evaluated the sensitivity of TPCSIAestimates to uncertainty in meanβGlx‐Phevalues and Glx‐Phe trophic discrimination factors (TDFGlx‐Phe).

    We show that variation inβGlx‐Phevalues is two times greater than previously considered, with degree of vascularization, not habitat type (terrestrial vs. aquatic), providing the greatest source of variability (vascular autotroph = −6.6 ± 3.4‰; non‐vascular autotroph = +3.3 ± 1.8‰). Within vascular plants, tissue type secondarily contributed toβGlx‐Phevalue variability, but we found no clear distinction among C3, C4and CAM plantβGlx‐Phevalues. Notably, we found that vascular plantβGlx‐Lysvalues (+2.5 ± 1.6‰) are considerably less variable thanβGlx‐Phevalues, making Lys a useful AA tracer of primary production sources in terrestrial systems. Our multi‐trophic level sensitivity analyses demonstrate that TPCSIAestimates are highly sensitive to changes in bothβGlx‐Pheand TDFGlx‐Phevalues but that the relative influence ofβvalues dissipates at higher trophic levels.

    Our results highlight that primary producerβvalues are integral to accurate trophic position estimation. We outline four key recommendations for identifying, constraining and accounting forβvalue variability to improve TPCSIAestimation accuracy and precision moving forward. We must ultimately expand libraries of primary producer AA δ15N values to better understand the mechanistic drivers ofβvalue variation.

     
    more » « less
  4. null (Ed.)
    In Mekong riparian countries, hydropower development provides energy, but also threatens biodiversity, ecosystems, food security, and an unparalleled freshwater fishery. The Sekong, Sesan, and Srepok Rivers (3S Basin) are major tributaries to the Lower Mekong River (LMB), making up 10% of the Mekong watershed but supporting nearly 40% of the fish species of the LMB. Forty-five dams have been built, are under construction, or are planned in the 3S Basin. We completed a meta-analysis of aquatic and riparian environmental losses from current, planned, and proposed hydropower dams in the 3S and LMB using 46 papers and reports from the past three decades. Proposed mainstem Stung Treng and Sambor dams were not included in our analysis because Cambodia recently announced a moratorium on mainstem Mekong River dams. More than 50% of studies evaluated hydrologic change from dam development, 33% quantified sediment alteration, and 30% estimated fish production changes. Freshwater fish diversity, non-fish species, primary production, trophic ecology, and nutrient loading objectives were less commonly studied. We visualized human and environmental tradeoffs of 3S dams from the reviewed papers. Overall, Lower Sesan 2, the proposed Sekong Dam, and planned Lower Srepok 3A and Lower Sesan 3 have considerable environmental impacts. Tradeoff analyses should include environmental objectives by representing organisms, habitats, and ecosystems to quantify environmental costs of dam development and maintain the biodiversity and extraordinary freshwater fishery of the LMB. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Limnological aspects of Amazon floodplain lakes are examined in the context of aquatic conservation.

    A prerequisite to detecting and evaluating changes that could threaten the ecological health and organisms in floodplain lakes is understanding variation under present conditions. Based on one of the few studies with regular measurements over 2 years, chlorophyll, total phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, transparency, and total suspended solids in Lake Janauacá indicate that the lake is naturally quite variable with a mesotrophic to eutrophic status.

    Direct threats to ecological health of floodplain lakes include mining operations that can increase turbidity and trace metals and reduce nutritional quality of sediments. Mercury contamination and methylation leads to bioaccumulation in aquatic organisms.

    Deforestation in uplands increases nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to floodplain lakes and can alter trophic status. Deforestation in floodable forests alters the habitat and food of the fish that inhabit these forests.

    Cumulative limnological responses as catchments are altered by urban, agricultural, and industrial developments, and as inundation is altered by changes in climate and construction of dams, have major implications for the ecology of floodplain lakes.

    To improve understanding and management of threats to the conservation of aquatic Amazon biota and ecosystems requires considerably expanded and coordinated research and community‐based management that includes the spectrum of floodplain lakes throughout the basin.

     
    more » « less