Spatial structuring of an evolving life-history strategy under altered environmental conditions

Abstract

Human disturbances to ecosystems have created challenges to populations worldwide, forcing them to respond phenotypically in ways that increase their fitness under current conditions. One approach to examining population responses to disturbance in species with complex life histories is to study species that exhibit spatial patterns in their phenotypic response across populations or demes. In this study, we investigate a threatened population of fall chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in the Snake River of Idaho, in which a significant fraction of the juvenile population have been shown to exhibit a yearling out-migration strategy which had not previously been thought to exist. It has been suggested that dam-related environmental changes may have altered the selective pressures experienced by out-migrating fall chinook, driving evolution of a later and more selectively advantageous migration strategy. Using isotopic analysis of otoliths from returning adult spawners, we reconstructed the locations of individual fish at three major juvenile life stages to determine if the representation of the yearling life history was geographically structured within the population. We reconstructed juvenile locations for natal, rearing and overwintering life stages in each of the major spawning areas in the basin. Our results indicate that the yearling life-history strategy is predominantly represented within one of the main spawning regions, the Clearwater River, rather than being distributed throughout the basin. Previous studies have shown the Clearwater River to have cooler temperatures, later hatch dates, and later outmigration of juveniles, indicating a link between environment and expression of the yearling life history. Our data suggest that this new yearling life history may be disproportionally represented in returning adult spawners, indicating selection for this life history within the population.

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Acknowledgments

Thanks to members of the CIFEES laboratory at University of Idaho, including E. Hamann, J. Reader and S. Bourret for help in sample collection, analysis, and method development. Thanks to A. Fremier for help with geospatial analysis and to B. Connor with U. S. Fish and Wildlife and B. Arnsberg from Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries who collected juvenile samples for this study. Thanks to D. Milks, staff at Lyons Ferry Hatchery and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, for facilitating sample collection and providing scale analysis. Thanks to the Washington State University Geoanalytical Lab, J. Vervoort, C. Knaack, and G. Hart for the use of their equipment and help in isotopic method development. This work was funded by grants to R. Zabel and B. Kennedy from the USACE and to B. Kennedy from NMFS - NWFSC. Additional funding came from an NSF GK-12 award, #0841199, and by the NSF Idaho EPSCoR program, award number EPS-0814387.

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Correspondence to Jens C. Hegg.

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Communicated by Leon Barmuta.

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Hegg, J.C., Kennedy, B.P., Chittaro, P.M. et al. Spatial structuring of an evolving life-history strategy under altered environmental conditions. Oecologia 172, 1017–1029 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-012-2564-9

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Keywords

  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Local adaptation
  • Chinook salmon
  • Juvenile migration
  • Otolith microchemistry