Uptake of salmon-derived nitrogen by mosses and liverworts in coastal British Columbia


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Abstract

Throughout forested watersheds bordering the North Pacific, anadromous salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) are transferred into coastal forests by numerous predators and scavengers with remnants providing an important nutrient subsidy to riparian zones. The contribution of these nutrients to mosses and liverworts, which are the dominant ground cover of coastal forests, has not been investigated. We examine here δ15N isotope signatures and foliar percent N of eight moss and liverwort species, as well as moss and liverwort community structure, in multiple habitat blocks that vary in access to salmon nutrients from two watersheds on the central coast of British Columbia. For the most common moss Rhytidiadelphus loreus, we also examine δ15N values and foliar percent N among salmon carcass micro-sites and along wildlife trails. Overall, δ15N signatures ranged from 2‰ to 7‰ higher below the falls near the salmon stream than above the small falls that are impassable to salmon, or at the adjacent control watershed that had no salmon. Among micro-sites, δ15N and %N values were highest near bony carcass remnants from transfer during previous years and high adjacent to wildlife trails indicating spatial heterogeneity in the salmon nutrient pools of these forests. Species richness and prevalence of nitrogen-rich soil indicators were also highest in forests adjacent to the salmon stream. These data suggest an important contribution of salmon-derived nutrients to the non-vascular plants of the riparian zone of old-growth forests throughout the Pacific Rim.

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