Establishing spatial trends in water chemistry and stable isotopes (δ15N and δ13C) in the Elwha River prior to dam removal and salmon recolonization

River Research and Applications
By: , and 

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Abstract

Two high-head dams on the Elwha River in Washington State (USA) have changed the migratory patterns of resident and anadromous fish, limiting Pacific salmon to the lower 7.9 km of a river that historically supported large Pacific salmon runs. To document the effects of the dams prior to their removal, we measured carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios of primary producers, benthic macroinvertebrates, and fish, and water chemistry above, between and below the dams. We found that δ15N was significantly higher in fish, stoneflies, black flies, periphyton and macroalgae where salmon still have access. Fish and chloroperlid stoneflies were enriched in δ13C, but the values were more variable than in δ15N. For some taxa, there were also differences between the two river sections that lack salmon, suggesting that factors other than marine-derived nutrients are structuring longitudinal isotopic profiles. Consistent with trophic theory, macroalgae had the lowest δ15N, followed by periphyton, macroinvertebrates and fish, with a range of 6.9, 6.2 and 7.7‰ below, between, and above the dams, respectively. Water chemistry analyses confirmed earlier reports that the river is oligotrophic. Phosphorous levels in the Elwha were lower than those found in other regional rivers, with significant differences among regulated, unregulated and reference sections. The removal of these dams, among the largest of such projects ever attempted, is expected to facilitate the return of salmon and their marine-derived nutrients (MDN) throughout the watershed, possibly altering the food web structure, nutrient levels and stable isotope values that we documented.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Establishing spatial trends in water chemistry and stable isotopes (δ15N and δ13C) in the Elwha River prior to dam removal and salmon recolonization
Series title River Research and Applications
DOI 10.1002/rra.1413
Volume 27
Issue 10
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Western Fisheries Research Center
Description 13 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title River Research and Applications
First page 1169
Last page 1181
Country United States
State Washington
Other Geospatial Elwha River