How researchers flinging salmon inadvertently spurred tree growth

How much salmon would scientists sling if scientists could sling salmon? For one research team, the question isn’t hypothetical, and the answer is … tons.

During 20 years of monitoring salmon populations in one southwest Alaskan stream, ecologists have found and flung a total 267,620 kilograms of dead fish into the forest. Those rotting carcasses leeched enough nutrients to speed up tree growth, researchers report October 23 in Ecology.

Some of the fish had died of old age, while many were torn apart by brown bears or gulls, says ecologist Thomas Quinn. He’s been counting salmon, both dead and alive, in Hansen Creek every year since 1997 with a rotating cast of students from the University of Washington in Seattle. For each dead fish, students catalogued the cause of death, then chucked the carcasses to one bank of the river to avoid double-counting.

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