Evolution of a stream ecosystem in recently deglaciated terrain

Alexander M. Milner, Anne Robertson, Lee E. Brown, Svein Harald Sonderland, Michael McDermott, Amanda J. Veal

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Climate change and associated glacial recession create new stream habitat that leads to the assembly of new riverine communities through primary succession. However, there are still very few studies of the patterns and processes of community assembly during primary succession for stream ecosystems. We illustrate the rapidity with which biotic communities can colonize and establish in recently formed streams by examining Stonefly Creek in Glacier Bay, Alaska (USA), which began to emerge from a remnant glacial ice mass between 1976 and 1979. By 2002, 57 macroinvertebrate and 27 microcrustacea species had become established. Within 10 years of the stream's formation, pink salmon and Dolly Varden charr colonized, followed by other fish species, including juvenile red and silver salmon, Coast Range sculpin, and sticklebacks. Stable-isotope analyses indicate that marine-derived nitrogen from the decay of salmon carcasses was substantially assimilated within the aquatic food web by 2004. The findings from Stonefly Creek are compared with those from a long-term study of a similarly formed but older stream (12 km to the northeast) to examine possible similarities in macroinvertebrate community and biological trait composition between streams at similar stages of development. Macroinvertebrate community assembly appears to have been initially strongly deterministic owing to low water temperature associated with remnant ice masses. In contrast, microcrustacean community assembly appears to have been more stochastic. However, as stream age and water temperature increased, macroinvertebrate colonization was also more stochastic, and taxonomic similarity between Stonefly Creek and a stream at the same stage of development was <50%. However the most abundant taxa were similar, and functional diversity of the two communities was almost identical. Tolerance is suggested as the major mechanism of community assembly. The rapidity with which salmonids and invertebrate communities have become established across an entire watershed has implications for the conservation of biodiversity in freshwater habitats.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1924-1935
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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