Lake-specific variation in growth, migration timing and survival of juvenile sockeye salmon Oncorhynchus nerka: separating environmental from genetic influences


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Time series on juvenile life-history traits obtained from sockeye salmon Oncorhynchus nerka were analysed to assess lake-specific environmental influences on juvenile migration timing, size and survival of fish from a common gene pool. Every year for the past two decades, O. nerka have been spawned at a hatchery facility, and the progeny released into two lakes that differ in average summer temperatures, limnological attributes and growth opportunities. Juveniles reared in the warmer, more productive Crosswind Lake were larger and heavier as smolts compared to those from the cooler, less productive Summit Lake and had higher in-lake and subsequent marine survival. Crosswind Lake smolts migrated from the lake to sea slightly earlier in the season but the migration timing distributions overlapped considerably across years. Fry stocking density had a negative effect on smolt length for both lakes, and a negative effect on in-lake survival in Summit Lake. Taken together, the results revealed a strong effect of lake-rearing environment on the expression of life-history variation in O. nerka. The stocking of these lakes each year with juveniles from a single mixed-source population provided a large-scale reverse common-garden experiment, where the same gene pool was exposed to different environments, rather than the different gene pools in the same environment approach typical of evolutionary ecology studies. Other researchers are encouraged to seek and exploit similar serendipitous situations, which might allow environmental and genetic influences on ecologically important traits to be distinguished in natural or semi-natural settings.