Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 99, Issue 2–3, pp 237–247 | Cite as

Can dietary reliance on Pacific salmon eggs create otolith Sr/Ca signatures that mimic anadromy in resident salmonids?

  • Troy Jaecks
  • Morgan H. Bond
  • Thomas P. Quinn


Many aspects of the ecology, growth, life history, and population dynamics of fishes differ between anadromous populations and those residing exclusively in freshwater habitats. Analysis of the elemental composition of otoliths (ear stones) is commonly used to indicate the migration history of individuals, relying on the differences in ambient concentrations of calcium, strontium, and barium and their subsequent incorporation into calcified structures. Dietary contribution to otolith chemistry is often overlooked, but in this study we report results consistent with the possibility that reliance on food resources derived from the ocean via Pacific salmon can produce otolith Sr/Ca ratios suggesting anadromy in freshwater resident fish. Dolly Varden, Salvelinus malma, from the Iliamna River, Alaska feed very heavily on eggs and other tissues from sockeye salmon, Oncorhynchus nerka, and their otoliths had Sr/Ca ratios typical of fish making seasonal migrations to marine waters but the Ba/Ca ratios were consistent with residence in fresh water. Water samples from the river provided no indication that the elevated Sr concentrations came from the river. A simulation of otolith chemistry resulting from Sr incorporation from both water and diet across a range of published values in salmonids indicates that a diet of salmon eggs and tissues can produce marine Sr/Ca ratios while fish remain in fresh water. Without experimental evidence such as a controlled diet study these results are suggestive but not conclusive. Nevertheless, they send a cautionary note that in some cases heavy reliance on marine-derived food sources might affect otolith microchemistry, creating an appearance of anadromy in fish that did not leave fresh water.


Anadromy Elemental analysis Microchemistry Migration Otolith Pacific salmon 



This study was supported by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Sport Fish, and the H. Mason Keeler Endowment at the University of Washington, with permits from the AGF&G and University of Washington IACUC. We thank Cody Larson, Ian Fo and Craig Schwanke, among others, for assistance with field collections. Kathy Smikrud generously provided the map of sampling locations. Comments on earlier drafts and suggestions during the project’s development were provided by David Beauchamp, Keith Denton and Daniel Schindler (UW). We thank Randy Brown (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Chris Zimmerman (U.S. Geological Service), and Jessica Miller (Oregon State University) for unpublished data, assistance with sample processing and interpretation, and comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for providing helpful advice that greatly improved the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Troy Jaecks
    • 1
    • 2
  • Morgan H. Bond
    • 2
    • 3
  • Thomas P. Quinn
    • 2
  1. 1.Division of Sport FishAlaska Department of Fish and GameJuneauUSA
  2. 2.School of Aquatic and Fishery SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  3. 3.Fish Ecology DivisionNorthwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAASeattleUSA

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