We studied the growth rate, downstream movement, and size of naturally produced fall Chinook Salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha subyearlings (age 0) for 20 years in an 8th-order river landscape with regulated riverine upstream rearing areas and an impounded downstream migration corridor. The population transitioned from low to high abundance in association with U.S. Endangered Species Act and other federally mandated recovery efforts. The mean growth rate of parr in the river did not decline with increasing abundance, but during the period of higher abundance the timing of dispersal from riverine habitat into the reservoir averaged 17 d earlier and the average size at the time of downstream dispersal was smaller by 10 mm and 1.8 g. Changes in apparent abundance, measured by catch per unit effort, largely explained the time of dispersal, measured by median day of capture, in riverine habitat. The growth rate of smolts in the reservoir declined from an average of 0.6 to 0.2 g/d between the abundance periods because the reduction in size at reservoir entry was accompanied by a tendency to migrate rather than linger and by increasing concentrations of smolts in the reservoir. The median date of passage through the reservoir was 14 d earlier on average, and average smolt size was smaller by 38 mm and 22.0 g, in accordance with density-dependent behavioral changes reflected by decreased smolt growth. Unexpectedly, smolts during the high-abundance period had begun to reexpress the migration timing and size phenotypes observed before the river was impounded, when abundance was relatively high. Our findings provide evidence for density-dependent phenotypic change in a large river that was influenced by the expansion of a recovery program. Thus, this study shows that efforts to recover native fishes can have detectable effects in large-river landscapes. The outcome of such phenotypic change, which will be an important area of future research, can only be fully judged by examining the effect of the change on population viability and productivity.
Additional publication details
Evidence for density-dependent changes in growth, downstream movement, and size of Chinook salmon subyearlings in a large-river landscape