The short-term stimulation of production, due to marine-derived nutrients (MDN) from spawning salmon, is well documented for certain trophic levels in stream communities (e.g., algae and insect biomass). The effect of these nutrients on the stream ecosystem as a whole, however, remains unclear especially later in the year. Trichopterans have been shown to feed on salmon and other fish carcasses and there is evidence for greater growth rates in the presence of salmon tissue. To address the question of long-term MDN subsidy on trichopterans, we investigated the growth of three limnephilid caddisflies in the spring in the Harris River on Prince of Wales Island, Southeast Alaska. The Harris River has a natural waterfall barrier to salmon and receives large runs of pink (O. gorbuscha) and chum (O. keta) salmon each fall. We selected two shredding caddisflies (Onocosmoecus unicolor) and (Psychoglypha spp.) and one facultative scraper, (Dicosmoecus atripes) for our study. We had two objectives : 1) compare the spring growth of larval caddisflies in a stream section that receives a large autumn run of salmon with their growth in a stream section that is blocked from receiving salmon (due to an impassable waterfall), and 2) compare the growth of shredders with that of a facultative scraper when provided either leaves or biofilm on rocks as food.
Insects were placed in growth boxes in May 2001 with either conditioned alder leaves or stream rocks as food sources. The boxes were placed along with temperature loggers in both the salmon (below the waterfall) and non-salmon (above the waterfall) reaches. The boxes were removed 40 days later. In-stream samples were taken of each caddisfly initially and at the end of the experiment to establish in-stream growth versus growth in the boxes. All larvae were coaxed from their cases, measured for total wet length, dried and weighed. Only D. atripes and Psychoglypha spp. were growing during our experiment and both showed very high relative growth rates in the Harris River. Psychoglypha spp. and O. unicolor were both significantly larger in the leaf boxes and D. atripes was significantly larger in the rock boxes. Both D. atripes and Psychoglypha spp. had significantly greater relative growth rates between food types (on biofilm on rocks and leaves respectively). These results support the notion that D. atripes are most likely facultative scrapers at least in their first year of growth. None of these caddisflies showed differences in their final mean weights or relative growth rates between stream sections, suggesting no effect of MDN on their spring growth in the Harris River. Further research on caddisfly communities in the fall and winter will help clarify if MDN has an influence on the abundance and life history of these species closer to the salmon run. This study questions the long-term influence of MDN on stream communities, particularly those populations that do most of their production in the spring, months after salmon carcasses are no longer visible.