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J Anim Ecol. 2014 Nov;83(6):1478-89. doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.12223. Epub 2014 May 8.

Predator avoidance during reproduction: diel movements by spawning sockeye salmon between stream and lake habitats.

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School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Box 355020, Seattle, WA, USA.
Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Zoology and Physiology, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, 82071, USA.
Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology, New Mexico State University, Box 30003, Las Cruces, NM, USA.


Daily movements of mobile organisms between habitats in response to changing trade-offs between predation risk and foraging gains are well established; however, less in known about whether similar tactics are used during reproduction, a time period when many organisms are particularly vulnerable to predators. We investigated the reproductive behaviour of adult sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) and the activity of their principal predator, brown bears (Ursus arctos), on streams in south-western Alaska. Specifically, we continuously monitored movements of salmon between lake habitat, where salmon are invulnerable to bears, and three small streams, where salmon spawn and are highly vulnerable to bears. We conducted our study across 2 years that offered a distinct contrast in bear activity and predation rates. Diel movements by adult sockeye salmon between stream and lake habitat were observed in 51.3% ± 17.7% (mean ± SD) of individuals among years and sites. Fish that moved tended to hold in the lake for most of the day and then migrated into spawning streams during the night, coincident with when bear activity on streams tended to be lowest. Additionally, cyclic movements between lakes and spawning streams were concentrated earlier in the spawning season. Individuals that exhibited diel movements had longer average reproductive life spans than those who made only one directed movement into a stream. However, the relative effect was dependent on the timing of bear predation, which varied between years. When predation pressure primarily occurred early in the spawning run (i.e., during the height of the diel movements), movers lived 120-310% longer than non-movers. If predation pressure was concentrated later in the spawning run (i.e. when most movements had ceased), movers only lived 10-60% longer. Our results suggest a dynamic trade-off in reproductive strategies of sockeye salmon; adults must be in the stream to reproduce, but must also avoid predation long enough to spawn. Given the interannual variation in the timing and intensity of predation pressure, the advantages of a particular movement strategy will likely vary among years. Regardless, movements by salmon allowed individuals to exploit fine-scale habitat heterogeneity during reproduction, which appears to be a strategy to reduce predation risk on the spawning grounds.


Alaska; cyclic movements; daily migrations; grizzly bears; habitat heterogeneity; mating behaviour; reproductive success

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