Steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) are anadromous and iteroparous, but repeat-spawning rates are generally low. Like other anadromous salmonids, steelhead trout fast during freshwater spawning migrations, but little is known about the changes that occur in vital organs and tissues. We hypothesized that fish capable of repeat-spawning would not undergo the same irreversible degeneration and cellular necrosis documented in semelparous salmon. Using Snake River steelhead trout as a model we used histological analysis to assess the cellular architecture in the pyloric stomach, ovary, liver, and spleen in sexually mature and kelt steelhead trout. We observed 38 % of emigrating kelts with food or fecal material in the gastrointestinal tract. Evidence of feeding was more likely in good condition kelts, and feeding was associated with a significant renewal of villi in the pyloric stomach. No vitellogenic oocytes were observed in sections of kelt ovaries, but perinucleolar and early/late stage cortical alveolus oocytes were present suggesting iteroparity was possible. We documented a negative correlation between the quantity of perinucleolar oocytes in ovarian tissues and fork length of kelts suggesting that larger steelhead trout may invest more into a single spawning event. Liver and spleen tissues of both mature and kelt steelhead trout had minimal cellular necroses. Our findings indicate that the physiological processes causing rapid senescence and death in semelparous salmon are not evident in steelhead trout, and recovery begins in fresh water. Future management efforts to increase iteroparity in steelhead trout and Atlantic salmon must consider the physiological processes that influence post-spawning recovery.
Additional publication details
Histological assessment of organs in sexually mature and post-spawning steelhead trout and insights into iteroparity