Use of glacier river-fed estuary channels by juvenile Coho Salmon: transitional or rearing habitats?

Abstract

Estuaries are among the most productive ecosystems in the world and provide important rearing environments for a variety of fish species. Though generally considered important transitional habitats for smolting salmon, little is known about the role that estuaries serve for rearing and the environmental conditions important for salmon. We illustrate how juvenile coho salmon Oncorhynchus kisutch use a glacial river-fed estuary based on examination of spatial and seasonal variability in patterns of abundance, fish size, age structure, condition, and local habitat use. Fish abundance was greater in deeper channels with cooler and less variable temperatures, and these habitats were consistently occupied throughout the season. Variability in channel depth and water temperature was negatively associated with fish abundance. Fish size was negatively related to site distance from the upper extent of the tidal influence, while fish condition did not relate to channel location within the estuary ecotone. Our work demonstrates the potential this glacially-fed estuary serves as both transitional and rearing habitat for juvenile coho salmon during smolt emigration to the ocean, and patterns of fish distribution within the estuary correspond to environmental conditions.

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Acknowledgments

We wish to acknowledge and thank Leon Shaul and the two anonymous reviewers who provided reviews that greatly improved this manuscript. Much appreciation is expressed to University of Alaska School of Fisheries professors Franz Mueter and Megan McPhee for their review and guidance. The Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve provided much needed staff support, facilities, and equipment. Thank you to Angela Doroff, Ori Badajos, and Jasmine Maurer for providing assistance with equipment, data management, and editorial review. Volunteers Janet Fink, Jason Neher, Russ Walker, and Michelle Gutsch provided invaluable assistance with fieldwork. This research was conducted in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System under an award from the Estuarine Reserves Division, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Additional funding came from State Wildlife Grants to KBRR, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Alaska Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. All work was completed under the University of Alaska Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee approved sampling plans. Use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to Tammy D. Hoem Neher.

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Neher, T.D.H., Rosenberger, A.E., Zimmerman, C.E. et al. Use of glacier river-fed estuary channels by juvenile Coho Salmon: transitional or rearing habitats?. Environ Biol Fish 97, 839–850 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10641-013-0183-x

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Keywords

  • Coho Salmon
  • Glacial estuaries
  • Early marine rearing
  • Smolting habitats