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Chemosensory responses of juvenile Coho salmon, Oncorhynchus kisutch, Dolly Varden, Salvelinus malma, and sculpins (Cottus spp.) to eggs and other tissues from adult Pacific salmon


The carcasses of semelparous Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) provide nutrients that enter aquatic ecosystems by various pathways, including direct consumption of tissue by fishes. Salmonids and other species frequently eat eggs and other tissues from dead salmon but the roles of vision and olfaction are unclear, as is the relative attraction to different tissues. Accordingly, we conducted a series of in situ experiments using minnow traps in two natural streams in Alaska to test the relative roles of chemosensory and visual cues in attraction of fishes to eggs from adult Pacific salmon, and then compared catch rates of traps baited with eggs, muscle, liver, and testis. Experiments indicated that chemical traces were necessary and sufficient to attract juvenile Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma), coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), and sculpins (Cottus spp.) into traps. Combining both sites, 70 salmonids and 19 sculpins were trapped using visual and chemical cues, and 53 and 21, respectively, for traps with only chemical cues. Traps with only the sight of eggs caught no salmonids and only 5 sculpins, comparable to empty control traps. In addition, eggs were markedly more attractive than the other tissues, trapping 68 % of the salmonids and 69 % of the sculpins, compared to 14 % and 15 % for muscle tissue, 12 % and 11 % for liver, and 6 % and 5 % for the testis. Visual cues undoubtedly play a role in egg consumption in streams, but these experiments indicated a very important role of chemical traces in attracting fish to the vicinity of the eggs, and selective attraction of eggs over other salmon tissues.

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We thank Conrad Gowell, Jennifer Griffiths, and Lindsey Cipiela for assistance with the Chignik River trials, Brian Quinn, and the students in the Aquatic Ecological Research in Alaska class for the Whitefish Creek trials, and Darran May for assistance preparing sampling supplies. Comments by Ray Hilborn and Daniel Schindler on earlier versions of the text are appreciated.

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Correspondence to Thomas P. Quinn.

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Quinn, T.P., Dittman, A.H., Barrett, H. et al. Chemosensory responses of juvenile Coho salmon, Oncorhynchus kisutch, Dolly Varden, Salvelinus malma, and sculpins (Cottus spp.) to eggs and other tissues from adult Pacific salmon. Environ Biol Fish 95, 301–307 (2012).

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  • Salmon eggs
  • Odors
  • Attraction
  • Salmonids
  • Sculpins
  • Marine derived nutrients