Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 170
Title: Hydrologic regime and the conservation of salmon life history diversity
Author: T. J. Beechie, E. Buhle, M. H. Ruckelshaus, A. H. Fullerton, L. Holsinger
Publication Year: 2006
Journal: Biological Conservation
Volume: 130
Issue: 4
Pages: 560-572

Life history diversity of imperiled Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp. substantially contributes to their persistence, and conservation of such diversity is a critical element of recovery efforts.  Preserving and restoring diversity of life history traits depends in part on environmental factors affecting their expression.  We analyzed relationships between annual hydrograph patterns and life history traits (spawn timing, age at spawning, age at outmigration, and body size) of Puget Sound Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) to identify environmental indicators of current and historic diversity.  Based on mean monthly flow patterns, we identified three hydrologic regimes:  snowmelt-dominated, rainfall-dominated, and transitional.  Chinook populations in snowmelt-dominated areas contained higher proportions of the stream-type life history (juvenile residence >1 year in freshwater), had older spawners, and tended to spawn earlier in the year than populations in rainfall-dominated areas.  There are few extant Puget Sound populations dominated by the stream-type life history, as several populations with high proportions of stream-type fish have been extirpated by construction of dams that prevent migration into snowmelt-dominated reaches.  The few extant populations are thus a high priority for conservation.  The low level of genetic distinction between stream-type and ocean-type (juvenile residence <1 year in freshwater) life histories suggests that allowing some portion of extant populations to recolonize habitats above dams might allow re-expression of suppressed life history characteristics, creating a broader spatial distribution of the stream-type life history.  Climate change ultimately may limit the effectiveness of some conservation efforts, as stream-type Chinook may be dependent on a diminishing snowmelt-dominated habitat.

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