Utah State University
Didymo, bloom, Kootenay, British Columbia
Stream habitat changes that affect primary consumers often indirectly impact secondary consumers such as fishes. Blooms of the benthic algae Didymosphenia geminata (Didymo) represent one such habitat change known to affect stream macroinvertebrates. However, the potential indirect trophic impacts on fish consumers via modifications to their diet are poorly understood. The overall goal of this project was to determine if Didymo blooms in streams of the Kootenay River basin of British Columbia and Montana affect the condition and growth of fishes, and to see whether trophic mechanisms were responsible for any observed changes. We therefore quantified the diet, condition, and growth rate of trout, charr, and sculpin in a paired, Didymo vs. reference study, during the summer of 2018 and across a gradient of Didymo abundance in 2019. In the 2018 study, trout diets were 81% similar despite obvious differences in the composition of macroinvertebrate assemblages between the Didymo and reference streams. Trout abundance was higher in the stream with Didymo, but the amount of invertebrates in the drift was higher in the stream without Didymo. Growth rate and energy demand by individual trout was similar between the two streams. In the 2019 study, across a gradient of coverage, Didymo abundance was correlated only with the percent of aquatic invertebrates in trout diets and did not affect diets of charr or sculpin. Variation in fish condition was low across study streams. Thus, Didymo blooms may impact trout diets to a small extent, but we found no evidence this impact translates to changes in condition or growth. The relationship of fish abundance to Didymo blooms bears further study, but we found no obvious trophic mechanisms that would explain any differences. We suggest future studies prioritize research on potential impacts during winter months and on species with limited mobility that may be most greatly impacted by Didymo.
Clancy, N. G., J. Brahney, J. Curtis, & P. Budy. 2020. Consequences of Didymo blooms in the transnational Kootenay River basin. Report to BC Parks.