Detecting the biological impacts of climate change is a current focus of ecological research and has important applications in conservation and resource management. Owing to a lack of suitable control systems, measuring correlations between time series of biological attributes and hypothesized environmental covariates is a common method for detecting such impacts. These correlative approaches are particularly common in studies of exploited fish species because rich biological time-series data are often available. However, the utility of species-environment relationships for identifying or predicting biological responses to climate change has been questioned because strong correlations often deteriorate as new data are collected. Specifically stating and critically evaluating the mechanistic relationship(s) linking an environmental driver to a biological response may help to address this problem. Using nearly 60 years of data on sockeye salmon from the Kvichak River, Alaska we tested a mechanistic hypothesis linking water temperatures experienced during freshwater rearing to population productivity by modeling a series of intermediate, deterministic relationships and evaluating temporal trends in biological and environmental time-series. We found that warming waters during freshwater rearing have profoundly altered patterns of growth and life history in this population complex yet there has been no significant correlation between water temperature and metrics of productivity commonly used in fisheries management. These findings demonstrate that pairing correlative approaches with careful consideration of the mechanistic links between populations and their environments can help to both avoid spurious correlations and identify biologically important, but not statistically significant relationships, and ultimately producing more robust conclusions about the biological impacts of climate change.
Cites: Nature. 2003 Jan 2;421(6918):37-4212511946
Cites: Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 May 27;100(11):6564-812743372
It has long been recognized that, as populations increase in density, ecological processes affecting growth and survival reduce per capita recruitment in the next generation. In contrast to the evidence for such "compensatory" density dependence, the alternative "depensatory" process (reduced per capita recruitment at low density) has proven more difficult to demonstrate in the field. To test for such depensation, we measured the spawner-recruit relationship over five decades for a sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) population in Alaska breeding in high-quality, unaltered habitat. Twenty-five years of detailed estimates of predation by brown bears, Ursus arctos, revealed strong density dependence in predation rate; the bears killed ca. 80% of the salmon in years of low salmon spawning abundance. Nevertheless, the reconstructed spawner-recruit relationship, adjusted to include salmon intercepted in the commercial fishery, provided no evidence of demographic depensation. That is, in years when few salmon returned and the great majority were killed by bears, the few that spawned were successful enough that the population remained highly productive, even when those killed by bears were included as potential spawners. We conclude that the high quality of breeding habitat at this site and the productive nature of semelparous Pacific salmon allowed this population to avoid the hypothesized depressed recruitment from depensatory processes expected at low density. The observed lack of demographic depensation is encouraging from a conservation standpoint because it implies that depleted populations may have the potential to rebound successfully given suitable spawning and rearing habitat, even in the presence of strong predation pressure.
A principle shared by both economists and ecologists is that a diversified portfolio spreads risk, but this idea has little empirical support in the field of population biology. We found that population growth rates (recruits per spawner) and life-history diversity as measured by variation in freshwater and ocean residency were negatively correlated across short time periods (one to two generations), but positively correlated at longer time periods, in nine Bristol Bay sockeye salmon populations. Further, the relationship between variation in growth rate and life-history diversity was consistently negative. These findings strongly suggest that life-history diversity can both increase production and buffer population fluctuations, particularly over long time periods. Our findings provide new insights into the importance of biocomplexity beyond spatio-temporal aspects of populations, and suggest that maintaining diverse life-history portfolios of populations may be crucial for their resilience to unfavourable conditions like habitat loss and climate change.
Studies of parallel evolution are seldom able to disentangle the influence of cryptic environmental variation from that of evolutionary history; whereas the unique life history of pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) presents an opportunity to do so. All pink salmon mature at age two and die after breeding. Hence, pink salmon bred in even years are completely reproductively isolated from those bred in odd years, even if the two lineages bred in same location. We used time series (mean = 7 years, maximum = 74 years) of paired even- and odd-year populations from 36 rivers spanning over 2000 km to explore parallelism in migration timing, a trait with a strong genetic basis. Migration timing was highly parallel, being determined almost entirely by local environmental differences among rivers. Interestingly, interannual changes in migration timing different somewhat between lineages. Overall, our findings indicate very strong determinism, with only a minor contribution of contingency.
The nature of gene flow in parasites with complex life cycles is poorly understood, particularly when intermediate and definitive hosts have contrasting movement potential. We examined whether the fine-scale population genetic structure of the diphyllobothriidean cestode Schistocephalus solidus reflects the habits of intermediate threespine stickleback hosts or those of its definitive hosts, semi-aquatic piscivorous birds, to better understand complex host-parasite interactions. Seventeen lakes in the Cook Inlet region of south-central Alaska were sampled, including ten in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, five on the Kenai Peninsula, and two in the Bristol Bay drainage. We analyzed sequence variation across a 759 bp region of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) cytochrome oxidase I region for 1,026 S. solidus individuals sampled from 2009-2012. We also analyzed allelic variation at 8 microsatellite loci for 1,243 individuals. Analysis of mtDNA haplotype and microsatellite genotype variation recovered evidence of significant population genetic structure within S. solidus. Host, location, and year were factors in structuring observed genetic variation. Pairwise measures revealed significant differentiation among lakes, including a pattern of isolation-by-distance. Bayesian analysis identified three distinct genotypic clusters in the study region, little admixture within hosts and lakes, and a shift in genotype frequencies over time. Evidence of fine-scale population structure in S. solidus indicates that movement of its vagile, definitive avian hosts has less influence on gene flow than expected based solely on movement potential. Observed patterns of genetic variation may reflect genetic drift, behaviors of definitive hosts that constrain dispersal, life history of intermediate hosts, and adaptive specificity of S. solidus to intermediate host genotype.
Understanding the extent of interspecific hybridization and how ecological segregation may influence hybridization requires comprehensively sampling different habitats over a range of life history stages. Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) and Dolly Varden (S. malma) are recently diverged salmonid fishes that come into contact in several areas of the North Pacific where they occasionally hybridize. To better quantify the degree of hybridization and ecological segregation between these taxa, we sampled over 700 fish from multiple lake (littoral and profundal) and stream sites in two large, interconnected southwestern Alaskan lakes. Individuals were genotyped at 12 microsatellite markers, and genetic admixture (Q) values generated through Bayesian-based clustering revealed hybridization levels generally lower than reported in a previous study (
Ecosystem-based management requires consideration of overlapping resource use between humans and other consumers. Pacific salmon are an important resource for both fisheries and populations of wildlife around the Pacific rim, including coastal brown bears (Ursus arctos); salmon consumption has been positively linked to bear density, body size, and reproductive rate. As a case study within the broader context of human-wildlife competition for food, we used 16-22 yr of empirical data in four different salmon-bearing systems in southwestern Alaska to explore the relationship between sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) availability and consumption by bears. We found a negative relationship between the annual biomass of salmon available to bears and the fraction of biomass consumed per fish, and a saturating relationship between salmon availability and the total annual biomass of salmon consumed by bears. Under modeled scenarios, bear consumption of salmon was predicted to increase only with dramatic (on the order of 50-100%) increases in prey availability. Even such large increases in salmon abundance were estimated to produce relatively modest increases in per capita salmon consumption by bears (2.4-4.8 kg·bear-1 ·d-1 , 15-59% of the estimated daily maximum per capita intake), in part because bears did not consume salmon entirely, especially when salmon were most available. Thus, while bears catching salmon in small streams may be limited by salmon harvest in some years, current management of the systems we studied is sufficient for bear populations to reach maximum salmon consumption every 2-4 yr. Consequently, allocating more salmon for brown bear conservation would unlikely result in an ecologically significant response for bears in these systems, though other ecosystem components might benefit. Our results highlight the need for documenting empirical relationships between prey abundance and consumption, particularly in systems with partial consumption, when evaluating the ecological response of managing prey resources for wildlife populations.
As they return to spawn and die in their natal streams, anadromous, semelparous fishes such as Pacific salmon import marine-derived nutrients to otherwise nutrient-poor freshwater and riparian ecosystems. Diverse organisms exploit this resource, and previous studies have indicated that riparian tree growth may be enhanced by such marine-derived nutrients. However, these studies were largely inferential and did not account for all factors affecting tree growth. As an experimental test of the contribution of carcasses to tree growth, for 20 yr, we systematically deposited all sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) carcasses (217,055 individual salmon) in the riparian zone on one bank of a 2-km-long stream in southwestern Alaska, reducing carcass accumulation on one bank and enhancing it on the other. After accounting for partial consumption and movement of carcasses by brown bears (Ursus arctos) and variation in salmon abundance and body size, we estimated that 267,620 kg of salmon were deposited on the enhanced bank and 45,200 kg on the depleted bank over the 20 yr, for a 5.9-fold difference in total mass. In 2016, we sampled needles of 84 white spruce trees (Picea glauca) the dominant riparian tree species, for foliar nitrogen (N) content and stable isotope ratios (d15 N), and took core samples for annual growth increments. Stable isotope analysis indicated that marine-derived N was incorporated into the new growth of the trees on the enhanced bank. Analysis of tree cores indicated that in the two decades prior to our enhancement experiment, trees on the south-facing (subsequently the depleted) bank grew faster than those on the north-facing (later enhanced) bank. This difference was reduced significantly during the two decades of fertilization, indicating an effect of the carcass transfer experiment against the background of other factors affecting tree growth.
An important unresolved question is how populations of coldwater-dependent fishes will respond to rapidly warming water temperatures. For example, the culturally and economically important group, Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.), experience site-specific thermal regimes during early development that could be disrupted by warming. To test for thermal local adaptation and heritable phenotypic plasticity in Pacific salmon embryos, we measured the developmental rate, survival, and body size at hatching in two populations of sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) that overlap in timing of spawning but incubate in contrasting natural thermal regimes. Using a split half-sibling design, we exposed embryos of 10 families from each of two populations to variable and constant thermal regimes. These represented both experienced temperatures by each population, and predicted temperatures under plausible future conditions based on a warming scenario from the downscaled global climate model (MIROC A1B scenario). We did not find evidence of thermal local adaptation during the embryonic stage for developmental rate or survival. Within treatments, populations hatched within 1 day of each other, on average, and among treatments, did not differ in survival in response to temperature. We did detect plasticity to temperature; embryos developed 2.5 times longer (189 days) in the coolest regime compared to the warmest regime (74 days). We also detected variation in developmental rates among families within and among temperature regimes, indicating heritable plasticity. Families exhibited a strong positive relationship between thermal variability and phenotypic variability in developmental rate but body length and mass at hatching were largely insensitive to temperature. Overall, our results indicated a lack of thermal local adaptation, but a presence of plasticity in populations experiencing contrasting conditions, as well as family-specific heritable plasticity that could facilitate adaptive change.
An important unresolved question is how populations of coldwater-dependent fishes will respond to rapidly warming water temperatures. For example, the culturally and economically important group, Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.), experience site-specific thermal regimes during early development that could be disrupted by warming. To test for thermal local adaptation and heritable phenotypic plasticity in Pacific salmon embryos, we measured the developmental rate, survival, and body size at hatching in two populations of sockeye salmon (O. nerka) that overlap in timing of spawning but incubate in contrasting natural thermal regimes. Using a split half-sibling design, we exposed embryos of 10 families from each of two populations to variable and constant thermal regimes. These represented both experienced temperatures by each population, and predicted temperatures under plausible future conditions based on a warming scenario from the downscaled global climate model (MIROC A1B scenario). We did not find evidence of thermal local adaptation during the embryonic stage for developmental rate or survival. Within treatments, populations hatched within one day of each other, on average, and among treatments, did not differ in survival in response to temperature. We did detect plasticity to temperature; embryos developed 2.5 times longer (189 days) in the coolest regime compared to the warmest regime (74 days). We also detected variation in developmental rates among families within and among temperature regimes, indicating heritable plasticity. Families exhibited a strong positive relationship between thermal variability and phenotypic variability in developmental rate but body length and mass at hatching were largely insensitive to temperature. Overall, our results indicated a lack of thermal local adaptation, but a presence of plasticity in populations experiencing contrasting conditions, as well as family-specific heritable plasticity that could facilitate adaptive change. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.