The influence of fluctuating ramping rates on the food web of boreal rivers



A BACI (before-after-control-impact) sampling design was applied to determine the possible effects of ramping rate (RR) regulation on food webs structure and function in a regulated boreal river. We used carbon and nitrogen stable isotope signatures of primary producers, macroinvertebrates and fish to determine variations in the source of carbon fuelling the food web as well as changes in the food web structure under variable RR flow regime. We hypothesized that unrestricted RR would (1) increase the connectivity between terrestrial and aquatic environments allowing for a higher contribution of terrestrial carbon to support the food web and (2) decrease food web length because of frequent disturbances. Unrestricted RR had little influence on δ13C values for the overall food web with most of the differences found between impacted sites compared and control sites, indicating that the proportion of various carbon sources entering the diet of consumers remained unchanged under unrestricted RR. In contrast, significantly higher δ15N values were measured in impacted sites (invertebrates and fish) and as well as under unrestricted ramping flow regime (invertebrates). Further, unrestricted RR was associated to a significant decrease in the difference between macroinvertebrates and fish δ15N signatures, equivalent to a reduction of the length of the food web by at least one trophic level. Results from this study indicate that RR should be taken into consideration in the regulation of operating regimes on rivers. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.