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Am Nat. 2003 Feb;161(2):284-98.

Timing games in the reproductive phenology of female pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.).

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia V5S 1S6, Canada.


We use a game-theoretic framework to investigate the reproductive phenology of female kokanee (Oncorhynchus nerka). As in the other semelparous species of Pacific salmon, females construct nests in gravel, spawn with males, bury their fertilized eggs, and defend their nest sites until they die several days later. Later-breeding females may reuse previous nest sites, and their digging behavior is thought to subject previously buried eggs to mortality. Using game-theoretic models, we show that females can reduce this risk by allocating resources to longevity (the period between arrival and death) as opposed to eggs. Waiting before territory settlement is also expected if it allows females to conserve energy and delay senescence. The models demonstrate how these costs and benefits interact to select for a seasonal decline in longevity, a well-known phenomenon in the salmonid literature, and a seasonal decline in wait duration. Both of these predictions were supported in a field study of kokanee. Female state of reproductive maturity was the most important proximate factor causing variation in longevity and wait duration. With more than 30% of territories being reused, dig-up is likely an important selective force in this population.

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