Direct and indirect influences of macrophyte cover on abundance and growth of juvenile Atlantic salmon

Freshwater Biology
By: , and 



1. The relationships between macrophytes and the physical and biological characteristics of the environments that aquatic organisms inhabit are complex. Previous studies have shown that the macrophytes, Ranunculus (subgenus Batrachium), which are dominant in lowland chalk streams and widespread across Europe, can enhance juvenile Atlantic salmon abundance and growth to a greater degree than other physical and biological habitat characteristics. However, mechanistic understanding of how this effect might arise requires consideration of the direct and indirect relationships among habitat characteristics that are likely to be influenced by the presence of macrophyte cover.
2. We applied structural equation modelling to data collected during a 2-year in-river manipulative experiment in the River Frome (southern England, U.K.) designed to quantify the magnitude and the relative importance of direct and indirect influences of Ranunculus cover and other physical and biological variables, including water velocity, water depth, prey biomass and body size, and abundance of con- and hetero-specifics, on abundance and somatic growth of 0+ salmon.
3. Results indicated a strongly positive direct influence of Ranunculus cover on salmon abundance, as well as positive influences of Ranunculus on velocity heterogeneity and water depth that are indirectly related to decreased salmon abundance. Interestingly, there was no indication of a direct influence of Ranunculus cover on salmon growth, although Ranunculus was indirectly related to increased salmon growth through its positive influence on prey biomass, an effect mediated by velocity heterogeneity and proportion of fast velocities.
4. These findings provide novel mechanistic insights into the key role of Ranunculus in their native lowland rivers to enhance abundance and improve conditions for multiple food web components. Strategies to maintain or enhance naturally occurring Ranunculus in these rivers are therefore likely to return wide ranging ecosystem benefits, including for species of high conservation value, such as salmon. These mechanistic impacts on habitat heterogeneity and ecosystem productivity could generalise to native macrophytes in other river systems, particularly where habitat is dominated by vegetation in the absence of large substrates.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Direct and indirect influences of macrophyte cover on abundance and growth of juvenile Atlantic salmon
Series title Freshwater Biology
DOI 10.1111/fwb.13979
Edition Online First
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Country United Kingdom
State Dorset County
Other Geospatial North Stream, River Frome
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