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Keywords:

  • feeding intensity;
  • food habits;
  • juvenile coho salmon;
  • northern California Current;
  • ocean conditions;
  • prey size

Abstract

The feeding habits of juvenile coho salmon, Oncorhynchus kisutch, in the northern California Current were examined using samples from two different time periods (1980–85 and 1998–2003) of highly contrasting oceanographic conditions. The goal was to test the influence of interannual and interdecadal changes in taxonomic composition of prey, feeding intensity, and size spectra of teleost prey. Analyses were done for samples taken both early in the summer (June) shortly after the salmon enter the ocean, and also in late summer (September) following some ocean residency. Fish prey dominated coho salmon diets by weight during most years, but this trend was more pronounced during the 1980–85 sampling period. In terms of numerical composition, the diets were more variable on an interannual basis, but decapod larvae and euphausiids were important prey in most years. Pteropods and copepods were important prey during weak upwelling or El Niño years, whereas euphausiids were important during strong upwelling or otherwise highly productive years. Hyperiid amphipods comprised a substantial proportion of the diets only in 2000. Coho salmon showed highly significant differences in prey composition among years or between decades both in weight and numerical composition. The percentage of empty stomachs was highly variable by year in both June and September, but was significantly different only for September between decades. In contrast, an index of feeding intensity did not show many significant changes in either comparison. However, the relative size ratios for fish prey consumed were highly variable by year, and larger than average fish prey were consumed during 1998, leading to the highest feeding intensity observed.