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Little Larry Swims: Salmon in the Trees?
Look up! I have an important role to play in the ecosystem…and in ways you might never expect.
Let’s talk about the food chain! We’re all a part of it.
When you are a salmon, you are a big part of it. 130 different plant and animal species depend on me. And so do people. I make for a great salmon bake. The restaurant chefs love me and I have been central to the diet culture and lifeways of Northwest Tribes for time immemorial.
An important role in the ecosystem
In the complex ecological food web—and my role in it—there’s a lot to learn, and some unexpected surprises. So while I’m pretty small and insignificant looking now, don’t be fooled. I’m actually a keystone species. It’s an honor but it’s also a big responsibility because so many species count on me to survive and thrive.
Keystone species: A species on which other species largely depend upon, and without their presence other species might be negatively impacted or cease to exist at all.
Back to the food chain. Let’s start at the top. You might have heard of the apex predator: bears, sharks, orca whales, and well, people…
When I grow bigger, I’ll have a high food value to the apex predator. And without me, they start to get “hangry.” There are fewer and fewer salmon around, so they have been getting really, really hungry. Orcas are particularly hungry for salmon, they aren’t getting enough and it’s putting their populations in danger.
My lifecycle is full of transitions, from my start in the river, out to the ocean, and back to the river to spawn…and that’s when some really weird stuff starts to happen. Basically, I have a very important afterlife. Just check this out!
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service describes the freakish transformation of my fellow salmon up north in “Life After Death: Your Ultimate Guide to Zombie Salmon”.
“Just as they feed the masses when they’re alive, salmon continue to give life long after they’re dead. When the bears are satiated and the fisherfolk have gone home, others partake. Eyeballs, a sumptuous morsel for beaked scavengers, are often the first to go. Depending where the carcasses lay, they’re fodder for fly larvae and aquatic grazers like caddisflies. In an odd twist of fate, these same insects will feed the new generation of salmon incubating beneath the gravel.”
So even after I’ve died and passed on, I’ll still be feeding the ecological food web as a “zombie salmon.” Feeling brave? Check out these crazy pictures!
At the end of my journey, after meeting up with the other salmon who made their way back to Redfish, I’ll pass on the nutrients I picked up in the ocean to other wildlife and even the trees!
A salmon carcass goes on to nourish the watershed with the nutrients—nitrogen and phosphorus—from the ocean. These fuel the growth of red cedars and the health of riparian corridors. Researchers found that trees on the banks of salmon-stocked rivers grow more than three times faster than their counterparts along salmon-free rivers.
Here’s a really fun fact: Scientists have long known that nitrogen content in a tree can be measured from its growth rings, which in turn, can be used to reconstruct historic salmon returns.
So when you are looking for salmon, there are a number of places you’ll find me. I’m in the river, I’m in the ocean…but I’m also in the trees!
Will you help me reach home, back to my river, back to Redfish Lake? Take the pledge
More about this series
Little Larry is a tiny fish on a big journey—swimming 900-miles from Idaho to the Pacific—tail first! His journey is a reminder that salmon could become extinct.
Follow his story and cheer him on as he swims to beat the odds!