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PLoS One. 2010 Sep 23;5(9):e12916. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012916.

Spatio-temporal migration patterns of Pacific salmon smolts in rivers and coastal marine waters.

Author information

  • 1Department of Zoology and Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. mmel@u.washington.edu

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Migrations allow animals to find food resources, rearing habitats, or mates, but often impose considerable predation risk. Several behavioural strategies may reduce this risk, including faster travel speed and taking routes with shorter total distance. Descriptions of the natural range of variation in migration strategies among individuals and populations is necessary before the ecological consequences of such variation can be established.

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS:

Movements of tagged juvenile coho, steelhead, sockeye, and Chinook salmon were quantified using a large-scale acoustic tracking array in southern British Columbia, Canada. Smolts from 13 watersheds (49 watershed/species/year combinations) were tagged between 2004-2008 and combined into a mixed-effects model analysis of travel speed. During the downstream migration, steelhead were slower on average than other species, possibly related to freshwater residualization. During the migration through the Strait of Georgia, coho were slower than steelhead and sockeye, likely related to some degree of inshore summer residency. Hatchery-reared smolts were slower than wild smolts during the downstream migration, but after ocean entry, average speeds were similar. In small rivers, downstream travel speed increased with body length, but in the larger Fraser River and during the coastal migration, average speed was independent of body length. Smolts leaving rivers located towards the northern end of the Strait of Georgia ecosystem migrated strictly northwards after ocean entry, but those from rivers towards the southern end displayed split-route migration patterns within populations, with some moving southward.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE:

Our results reveal a tremendous diversity of behavioural migration strategies used by juvenile salmon, across species, rearing histories, and habitats, as well as within individual populations. During the downstream migration, factors that had strong effects on travel speeds included species, wild or hatchery-rearing history, watershed size and, in smaller rivers, body length. During the coastal migration, travel speeds were only strongly affected by species differences.

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