3 years ago

Variability in the performance of juvenile Chinook salmon is explained primarily by when and where they resided in estuarine habitats

Abstract

Estuarine habitats provide rearing opportunities for the juvenile life stage of anadromous fishes. Because survival is positively correlated with juvenile performance, these estuarine habitats play an important role in population abundance and productivity. To provide information for the recovery of several depressed stocks of Chinook salmon in the Columbia River Basin, we sought to identify the factors that explain variability in performance. Using otolith‐derived estimates of juvenile somatic growth rate as an index of recent performance, we observed a negative nonlinear relationship between growth rate and day of year, and a decreasing and increasing trend of growth rate over the 8 years of this study and distance from the river mouth respectively. Using a generalised linear modelling approach, we found that variability in juvenile somatic growth rate was best explained by where and when individuals were collected, their body size, contaminant loads, stock of origin, and whether a fish was hatchery produced or unmarked. Lastly, we argue that a considerable improvement to the growth rate of juveniles in estuarine habitats is physiologically possible. The results of this 8‐year study provide a baseline of the performance of juvenile Chinook salmon to evaluate habitat restoration programs and to compare against future anthropogenic conditions.

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