, Volume 99, Issue 3-4, pp 243-251

Variation in digestive performance between geographically disjunct populations of Atlantic salmon: countergradient in passage time and digestion rate

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European Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) populations inhabit rivers from northern Portugal to northern Norway across a wide spectrum of environmental variability. To address whether single physical factors might lead to genetic divergence of isolated populations, we compared the digestive performances total digestibility, relative nitrogen digestibility, passage time, and digestion rate (g dry matter · h−1) — of northern (Scotland) and southern (Asturias, northern Spain) populations at three temperature regimes (5, 12, and 20° C). Total dry matter digestibilities increased directly with temperature but were similar for both populations at each of the three trials. Relative nitrogen digestibility did not differ between populations nor among temperature regimes. In contrast, passage time was significantly longer for low-than for high-latitude fish at both 5 and 20° C. When the percentage of food digested and the passage time were integrated as digestion rates (food digested per unit time), a significant population × temperature interaction consistent with a genotype × environment interaction was detected in addition to the population and temperature effects. This implies that not only is the digestive performance of the high-latitude population higher throughout the range of temperatures examined, but moreover the difference is reinforced at high temperatures, where the digestion rate of high-latitude fish was 1.6 times greater. Taken together, these two results provide preliminary evidence for countergradient variation in digestive rates of salmonids in response to variation in growth opportunity. The data support our previous work on the same two populations showing differences in growth rates, and underlie one of the possible mechnisms leading to more rapid growth of the high-latitude fish when both populations are reared in a common environment.