Large dams and their respective reservoirs provide renewable energy and water security, but also can profoundly alter riverine ecosystems. Here, we present evidence of changing aquatic food web structure in the seasons following short-duration, extreme manipulation of water levels in a reservoir (i.e., draining of the reservoir to the original riverbed during fall to assist outmigration of juvenile Chinook Salmon). We find unintended and lagged consequences of transitioning from a lake to a river, even temporarily, that resulted in trophic shifts away from piscivory and towards feeding at lower trophic levels for two common piscivorous fishes in reservoirs. Using natural abundances of nitrogen stable isotopes, we observed lower trophic level of feeding for invasive Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) and native Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) during the summers following reservoir refilling than in nearby reference reservoirs that were not temporarily drained during fall. Declines in trophic levels of aquatic top predators have been rarely documented outside of controlled laboratory conditions. While useful for assisting outmigration of juvenile salmonids, the temporary draining of a reservoir to riverbed can also result in novel shifts in foodweb dynamics including reduced piscivory. As large dams continue to be operated and constructed worldwide, increased understanding of the community and ecosystem-level effects of reservoir management will be critical to evaluating trade-offs between human water needs, conservation of high value species, and ecosystem services impacted by river fragmentation.
Murphy, Christina A.; Arismendi, Ivan; Taylor, Gregory A.; Johnson, Sherri L. 2019. Evidence for lasting alterations to aquatic food webs with short-duration reservoir draining. PLOS ONE. 14(2): e0211870-. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0211870.