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Project ID: 14-3-01-37

Year: 2014

Date Started: 08/01/2014

Ending Date:  06/30/2015

Title: Fire and food webs in Yosemite National Park: implications of fire regimes on linked stream-riparian ecosystems

Project Proposal Abstract: Wildfire is an important source of disturbance for mountain streams of the American West. Yosemite National Park, CA (YNP) has a long history of managing lightning fires for resource benefit and protection of infrastructure. The Rim Fire (2013) exhibited unprecedented extent, high-severity patch size, and proportion of high-severity before it reached the park boundary where all three metrics decreased. The proposed study will give an indication of the mechanisms and scale by/at which fire severity within the park affects linked stream-riparian food webs as measured by food chain length (FCL) and fluxes of organisms and energy from the aquatic to terrestrial environment (i.e. aquatic emergent invertebrates as prey for riparian spiders). Linked aquatic-terrestrial response to wildfire has received limited attention despite its implications for aquatic ecosystem sustainability and resilience. In particular, a growing body of literature suggests the importance of disturbance in determining fluvial ecosystem properties such as food-chain length (FCL) and cross-boundary flows of energy and nutrients. In addition, few, if any, studies have been able to incorporate pre- and post-fire data due to the unpredictable nature of wildfire ignition and spread. This study will build upon three years of pre-fire data where we have observed that riparian spider density in stream reaches affected by low-severity wildfire in the mid-to-long term (last two decades) is 1.5x higher than stream reaches affected by high-severity fire in the same time frame. In addition, we have observed that in low-severity burned reaches, spiders were highly dependent on autochthonous aquatic production and occupied a slightly higher trophic position whereas spiders in high-severity burned reaches occupied a lower trophic position, suggesting greater food-web complexity at low-severity reaches. Within this context, we propose to investigate the immediate influence of an abnormally large and severe wildfire on linked short-term responses in geomorphology, riparian habitat, and stream-to-riparian fluxes of carbon and energy to riparian spiders. To do this, stream-riparian food webs will be analyzed in tributaries of the Tuolumne and Merced Rivers in YNP recently consumed by the unprecedented Rim Fire utilizing a Before-After-Control-Impact (BACI) design. The approach will rely on coordinated geomorphic and riparian habitat surveys as well as collections of aquatic and terrestrial primary producers, aquatic-to-terrestrial prey subsidies, and riparian spiders. Natural stable isotopes (13C, 15N and 2H) will be used to determine trophic position of spiders and reliance on aquatic production. We will employ a multivariate statistical approach to determine the extent to which reach-scale variability (i.e. riparian vegetation, geomorphology, benthic invertebrate density and community composition) versus catchment-level variability (i.e. proportion high-severity, high-severity patch size, fire extent, and ecosystem size) determine changes in FCL and reliance of riparian spiders on aquatic production. The expected benefit of the proposed study is to establish how and at what spatial scale wildfire managed for resource benefits drives stream-riparian ecosystem function as measured by FCL and fluxes of energy and organisms.

Principal Investigator: Mazeika S. Sullivan

Agency/Organization: Ohio State University

Branch or Dept: School of Environment & Natural Resources-Columbus

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Laura A. Finch

Ohio State University

Office of Sponsored Programs

Budget Contact

Laura A. Finch

Ohio State University

Office of Sponsored Programs

Funding Cooperator

Laura A. Finch

Ohio State University

Office of Sponsored Programs

Stage 2 Lead Reviewer

Brian J. Harvey

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Department of Zoology

Stage 2 Reviewer

Sara H. Brown

New Mexico Highlands University

Natural Resources Management

Stage 2 Reviewer

Fernando Garcia Menendez

Georgia Institute of Technology

School of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Stage 2 Reviewer

Jeffrey M. Kane

Humboldt State University

Department of Forestry & Wildland Resources

Stage 2 Reviewer

Monique E. Rocca

Colorado State University

Department of Forest, Rangeland & Watershed Stewardship

Student Investigator

Breeanne K. Jackson

Ohio State University

School of Environment & Natural Resources-Columbus

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