• Europe;
  • growth variation;
  • latitude;
  • altitude;
  • temperature

Spatial variation in growth of stream-dwelling brown trout Salmo trutta was explored in 13 populations using a long-term study (1993–2004) in the Bay of Biscay drainage, northern Spain. The high variability in fork length (LF) of S. trutta in the study area was similar to the body-size range found in the entire European distribution of the species. Mean LF at age varied: 0+ years, 57·4–100·7 mm; 1+ years, 111·6–176·0 mm; 2+ years, 155·6–248·4 mm and 3+ years, 194·3–290·9 mm. Average LF at age was higher in main courses and lower reaches compared with small tributaries and upper reaches. Annual specific growth rates (GL) were: 0+ to 1+ years, 0·634–0·825 mm mm−1 year−1; 1+ to 2+ years, 0·243–0·342 mm mm−1 year−1; 2+ to 3+ years, 0·166–0·222 mm mm−1 year−1, showing a great homogeneity. Regression models showed that water temperature and altitude were the major determinants of LF at age variability within the study area. A broader spatial analysis using available data from stream-dwelling S. trutta populations throughout Europe indicated a negative relationship between latitude and LF of individuals and a negative interaction between latitude and altitude. These findings support previous evidence of the pervasive role of water temperature on the LF of this species. Altitude appeared as the overall factor that includes the local variation of other variables, such as water temperature or food availability. At a larger scale, latitude was the factor that encompassed these environmental gradients and explained the differences in LF of S. trutta. In summary, LF at age in stream-dwelling S. trutta decreases with latitude in Europe, the converse of Bergmann's rule.