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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2012 Jan-Feb;85(1):62-73. doi: 10.1086/663770. Epub 2011 Dec 15.

Sex and proximity to reproductive maturity influence the survival, final maturation, and blood physiology of Pacific salmon when exposed to high temperature during a simulated migration.

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Centre for Applied Conservation Research and Department of Forest Sciences, University of British Columbia, 2424 Main Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada.


Some Pacific salmon populations have been experiencing increasingly warmer river temperatures during their once-in-a-lifetime spawning migration, which has been associated with en route and prespawn mortality. The mechanisms underlying such temperature-mediated mortality are poorly understood. Wild adult pink (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) and sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka) salmon were used in this study. The objectives were to investigate the effects of elevated water temperature on mortality, final maturation, and blood properties under controlled conditions that simulated a "cool" (13°C) and "warm" (19°C) freshwater spawning migration. After 10 d at 13°C, observed mortality was 50%-80% in all groups, which suggested that there was likely some mortality associated with handling and confinement. Observed mortality after 10 d at 19°C was higher, reaching ≥98% in male pink salmon and female pink and sockeye salmon. Thus, male sockeye salmon were the most thermally tolerant (54% observed mortality). Model selection supported the temperature- and sex-specific mortality patterns. The pink salmon were closer to reproductive maturation and farther along the senescence trajectory than sockeye salmon, which likely influenced their survival and physiological responses throughout the experiment. Females of both species held at 19°C had reduced plasma sex steroids compared with those held at 13°C, and female pink salmon were less likely to become fully mature at 19° than at 13°C. Male and female sockeye salmon held at 19°C had higher plasma chloride and osmolality than those held at 13°C, indicative of a thermally related stress response. These findings suggest that sex differences and proximity to reproductive maturity must be considered when predicting thermal tolerance and the magnitude of en route and prespawn mortality for Pacific salmon.

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