Interactions among forest age, valley and channel morphology, and log jams regulate animal production in mountain streams

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
David M Walters1, Michael P. Venarsky2, Robert O Hall Jr3, Adam Herdrich2, Bridget Livers4, Dana Winkelman2 and Ellen Wohl2, (1)USGS, Baltimore, MD, United States, (2)Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, United States, (3)University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, United States, (4)Colorado State University, Geosciences, Fort Collins, CO, United States
Forest age and local valley morphometry strongly influence the form and function of mountain streams in Colorado. Streams in valleys with old growth forest (>350 years) have extensive log jam complexes that create multi-thread channel reaches with extensive pool habitat and large depositional areas. Streams in younger unmanaged forests (e.g., 120 years old) and intensively managed forests have much fewer log jams and lower wood loads. These are single-thread streams dominated by riffles and with little depositional habitat. We hypothesized that log jam streams would retain more organic matter and have higher metabolism, leading to greater production of stream macroinvertebrates and trout. Log jam reaches should also have greater emergence of adult aquatic insects, and consequently have higher densities of riparian spiders taking advantage of these prey. Surficial organic matter was 3-fold higher in old-growth streams, and these streams had much higher ecosystem respiration. Insect production (g m2 y-1) was similar among forest types, but fish density was four times higher in old-growth streams with copious log jams. However, at the valley scale, insect production (g m-1 valley-1) and trout density (number m-1 valley-1) was 2-fold and 10-fold higher, respectively, in old growth streams. This finding is because multi-thread reaches created by log jams have much greater stream area and stream length per meter of valley than single-thread channels. The more limited response of macroinvertebrates may be related to fish predation. Trout in old growth streams had similar growth rates and higher fat content than fish in other streams in spite of occurring at higher densities and higher elevation/colder temperatures. This suggests that the positive fish effect observed in old growth streams is related to greater availability of invertebrate prey, which is consistent with our original hypothesis. Preliminary analyses suggest that spider densities do not respond strongly to differences in stream morphology, but rather to changes in elevation and associated air temperatures. These results demonstrate strong indirect effects of forest age and valley morphometry on organic matter storage and animal secondary production in streams that is mediated by direct effects associated with the presence or absence of logjams.