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A river ran through it
Date:10/14/2010

ity, New Haven, Conn. suggest that the fate of large bodied fishes should be more carefully factored into the management of water use, especially as growing human populations and climate change increasingly affect water availability.

The researchers studied the food webs that live in and depend on rivers for their survival. They studied 36 rivers and streams in the U.S. ranging in size from the Mississippi and Colorado Rivers, down to and their small tributaries. The rivers included in the study provide water for drinking to large cities like New York City, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

At the top of these food webs were large bodied fish, which appear the most vulnerable to variations in river flows. The researchers found that even though the mechanics were different, the end result of floods and droughts on the food webs were similar and the effects appear to be long lasting.

The study employed naturally occurring stable isotopes of the element nitrogen to measure how high top-predators were in the food chain. Nitrogen provides an indicator for how high a consumer is in the food chain because it bioaccumulates increasing by 3.4 parts per million with each link in the chain.

"Floods simplify the food web by taking out some of the intermediate players in it so that the big fish begin to eat lower on the food chain than they would if the food web were not exposed to high flows," Sabo said. "That makes them lower on the food chain themselves. Predators that eat lower on the food chain are having a dinner that has essentially missed a meal in itself. Imagine a lion eating grass, instead of eating gazelles that eat grass."

"With droughts, it's completely different, they just eliminate the top predator altogether because many fish just can't tolerate the low oxygen and high temperatures that follow when a stream starts drying out," said Sabo, who specializes in river and riparian ecosystems. "Even if it
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Contact: Skip Derra
skip.derra@asu.edu
480-965-4823
Arizona State University
Source:Eurekalert  

Page: 1 2 3 4

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