THE RIVER IS AN ORGANIC SOUP



In the Connecticut River many of the food webs are ultimately based upon organic detritus, small particles of microbially altered leaves and wood. All of the fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds living either in or along the river are directly or indirectly dependent upon this organic matter. The river is a kind of moving soup of organic particles. These particles are filtered out of the moving water by a variety of invertebrates, including the larval stages of aquatic insects, mussels, bryozoans and sponges.

Leaves and wood enter the river from the flood plain forest and the woodlands along the river's tributaries. The majority of this plant material moves into the river either in the Fall or during periods of high water, when the river floods into the riparian forests and masses of dead leaves, fallen branches, logs, and even whole trees float out into the mainstem.

Eventually these plant materials become water-logged and sink.

Sunken trees and logs: Smallmouth bass habitat

As the sunken leaves, branches, logs and trees tumble along the river bottom with the current, they are shredded into smaller and smaller pieces. These pieces are colonized by microbes which convert this material into high quality food for the filter feeders.

Thus the origin of the organic detritus in the river is ultimately the trees, shrubs and herbs of the nearby forests. These plants synthesize leaves and woody tissues from CO2, using the sun's energy (light); this process is called photosynthesis and it occurs in the green leaves (and green stems) of the flood plain plants. Therefore an understanding of the Connecticut River's ecology must start with an appreciation of the chemistry of photosynthesis.

Cummins, K. W., C. E. Cushing and G. W. Minshall. 1995. Introduction: An Overview of Stream Ecosystems, pp. 1-8.

In River and Stream Ecosystems, (eds.) C. E. Cushing, K. W. Cummins and G. W. Minshall. Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Webster, J. R., J. B. Wallace and E. F. Benfield. 1995. Organic Processes in Streams of the Eastern United States. pp 117-187.

In River and Stream Ecosystems, (eds.) C. E. Cushing, K. W. Cummins and G. W. Minshall. Elsevier, Amsterdam.