The effects of wetland loss and restoration on the foraging performance and growth potential of Juvenile Chinook salmon in Pacific Northwest estuaries
David, Aaron Thomas
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During the transition of juveniles from fresh water to estuarine and coastal environments, the survival of Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) can be strongly size-selective and cohort abundance is partly determined. Because the quantity and quality of food consumed influence juvenile salmon growth, high rates of prey and energy acquisition during estuarine residence are important for survival. Human activities may have affected the foraging performance of juvenile salmon in estuaries by reducing the area of wetlands and by altering the abundance of conspecifics. To improve our understanding of the effects of wetland loss and conspecific density on juvenile salmon foraging performance and diet composition in estuaries, I assembled Chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha) diet and density data from nine U.S. Pacific Northwest estuaries across a gradient of wetland loss. We evaluated the influence of wetland loss and conspecific density on juvenile Chinook salmon instantaneous ration and energy ration, two measures of foraging performance, and whether the effect of density varied among estuaries with different levels of wetland loss. We also assessed the influence of wetland loss and three other covariates on salmon diet composition. There was no evidence of a direct effect of wetland loss on juvenile salmon foraging performance, but wetland loss mediated the effect of conspecific density on salmon foraging performance and altered salmon diet composition. These results suggest that habitat loss can interact with conspecific density to constrain the foraging performance of juvenile fishes, and ultimately their growth, during a life-history stage when survival is positively correlated with growth and size. I also evaluated whether restoring tidal flow to previously diked estuarine wetlands also restores foraging and growth opportunities for juvenile Chinook salmon. Several studies have assessed the value of restored tidal wetlands for juvenile salmon, but few have used integrative measures of salmon physiological performance, such as habitat-specific growth potential, to evaluate restoration. Our study took place in the Nisqually River delta, where recent dike removals restored tidal flow to 364 ha of marsh, the largest tidal marsh restoration in the Pacific Northwest. To compare Chinook salmon foraging performance and growth potential in two restored and two reference marshes over three years post-restoration, we sampled fish assemblages, water temperatures, and juvenile Chinook salmon diet composition and consumption rates, and used these data as inputs to a bioenergetics model. We found that juvenile Chinook salmon foraging performance and growth potential were similar between the restored and reference marshes. However, densities of Chinook salmon were significantly lower in the restored marshes and growth potential was more variable in the restored marshes due to their more variable and warmer (2° C) water temperatures compared to the reference marshes. These results indicate that some but not all ecosystem attributes that are important to juvenile salmon rapidly recover following large-scale tidal marsh restoration.
- Fisheries