Eighty years of food-web response to interannual variation in discharge recorded in river diatom frustules from an ocean sediment core [Ecology]
Little is known about the importance of food-web processes as controls of river primary production due to the paucity of both long-term studies and of depositional environments which would allow retrospective fossil analysis. To investigate how freshwater algal production in the Eel River, northern California, varied over eight decades, we quantified siliceous shells (frustules) of freshwater diatoms from a well-dated undisturbed sediment core in a nearshore marine environment. Abundances of freshwater diatom frustules exported to Eel Canyon sediment from 1988 to 2001 were positively correlated with annual biomass of Cladophora surveyed over these years in upper portions of the Eel basin. Over 28 years of contemporary field research, peak algal biomass was generally higher in summers following bankfull, bed-scouring winter floods. Field surveys and experiments suggested that bed-mobilizing floods scour away overwintering grazers, releasing algae from spring and early summer grazing. During wet years, growth conditions for algae could also be enhanced by increased nutrient loading from the watershed, or by sustained summer base flows. Total annual rainfall and frustule densities in laminae over a longer 83-year record were weakly and negatively correlated, however, suggesting that positive effects of floods on annual algal production were primarily mediated by “top-down” (consumer release) rather than “bottom-up” (growth promoting) controls.
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