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Marine and freshwater climatic factors affecting interannual variation in the timing of return migration to fresh water of sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka)




Interannual variation in the timing of the return migration to fresh water of adult sockeye salmon, Oncorhynchus nerka, from 46 populations throughout the species North American range was examined in a broad analysis of how timing patterns are affected by marine and freshwater conditions. Migration timing data (measured at various points along the migration, including just prior to freshwater entry, just after freshwater entry, and near the spawning grounds) were examined for correlations with sea-surface temperatures (SST) prior to migration and to freshwater temperatures and flows during migration. Following a spring–summer period with warm SST, populations from southwestern Alaska tended to return early, Fraser River populations returned late, and populations from other regions showed no consistent patterns. Similarities between interannual timing of both nearby and distant populations indicated the presence of common or coincidental influences on timing. When riverine conditions related to timing, high flows and low temperatures were associated with late migrations, low flows and high temperatures were associated with early migrations. However, even counting stations at upriver locations showed correlations with SST. Notwithstanding some inconsistencies among the many populations examined and the indirect nature of the inferences, the results supported the hypotheses that (i) interannual variations in salmon distributions at sea reflect temperature conditions, and (ii) the date when salmon initiate homeward migration is a population-specific trait, largely unaffected by the fish's location at sea.