Salmon act as an ecological process vector, important in the transport of energy and nutrients between the ocean, estuaries, and freshwater environments. The flow of nutrients back upstream via spawning salmon and the ability of watersheds to retain them play a vital role in determining the overall productivity of salmon runs.
As a seasonal resource, wild salmon directly affect the ecology of many aquatic and terrestrial consumers, and indirectly affect the entire food web. The challenge for salmon, wildlife, and land managers is to recognize and account for the importance of salmon not only as a commodity resource to be harvested for human consumption, but also for their crucial role in supporting overall ecosystem health. It is also important that naive view of wildlife as only consumers of salmon be abandoned.
Helping our environment
Salmon and wildlife are important co-dependent components of regional biodiversity, and deserve far greater joint consideration in land-management planning, fishery management strategies, and ecological studies than they have received in the past.
Its role as a Keystone Species:
A keystone species is plays a critical role in maintaining the health and structure of an ecosystem. Salmon is a keystone species because of how they are being captured by their predators. They leap out of the streams and are pulled onto the shorelines by their hungry captors. Gray wolves drag the salmon carcasses even farther into the forest, where they feed thousands upon thousands of insects and microorganisms. The decaying fish release nitrogen, nature’s super-fertilizer, into the soil around them. It’s this high concentration of salmon-derived nitrogen that allows the trees along the coast and up through the river valleys to grow so large. In turn, these giant Sitka spruce and red cedar trees create havens for eagles above and wolves below.
Over The Years
Once every four years, millions of salmon return home to Pacific Coast Rivers ranging from Washington State through British Columbia and Alaska.
Over a few weeks in fall, the migratory rivers turn a deep crimson, in one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, as sockeye flood the river and its tributaries.
Scientists still know little about how salmon navigate the open ocean, identify their native river or stream, and find their way to within feet of their birth, and change colour from a brackish green at sea to a deep crimson in fresh water.
We do know that these enigmatic fish are responsible for the gigantism associated with the towering coastal rain forests of Alaska and British Columbia.
Salmon are the reason the region’s grizzly bears, which gorge on the fatty fish ahead of their long, winter nap.
The creatures that feed on dying salmon carry nitrogen into the forests, fertilizing the surrounding trees and allowing Sitka spruce to reach more than 20 stories into the sky.
The effect of this natural fertilizer on trees is so dramatic that scientists can tell how well a salmon run is doing simply by looking at the surrounding forest.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of these keystone species to trees and wildlife, including birds, bears, and wolves and to coastal peoples for whom the fish are a vital food and cultural touchstone.