Spatial niche variability for young Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and brown trout (S. trutta) in heterogeneous streams


  • J. Heggenes,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Environmental Sciences, Telemark College, Bøi Telemark, Norway
      Department of Environmental Sciences, Telemark College, P. O. Box 14, N-3800 Bø i Telemark, Norway
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  • J. L. Baglinière,

    1. Laboratoire d'Ecologie Aquatique, INRA Centre de Recherche de Rennes, Rennes, France
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  • R. A. Cunjak

    1. Department of Biology and Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Management, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton New Brunswick, Canada
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Department of Environmental Sciences, Telemark College, P. O. Box 14, N-3800 Bø i Telemark, Norway


Abstract– Habitat is important in determining stream carrying capacity and population density in young Atlantic salmon and brown trout. We review stream habitat selection studies and relate results to variable and interacting abiotic and biotic factors. The importance of spatial and temporal scales are often overlooked. Different physical variables may influence fish position choice at different spatial scales. Temporally variable water flows and temperatures are pervasive environmental factors in streams that affect behavior and habitat selection. The more frequently measured abiotic variables are water depth, water velocity (or stream gradient), substrate particle size, and cover. Summer daytime, feeding habitats of Atlantic salmon are size structured. Larger parr (>7 cm) have a wider spatial niche than small parr. Selected snout water velocities are consistently low (3–25 cm. s−1). Mean (or surface) water velocities are in the preferred range of 30–50 cm. s−1, and usually in combination with coarse substratum (16–256 mm). However, salmon parr demonstrate flexibility with respect to preferred water velocity, depending on fish size, intra- and interspecific competition, and predation risk. Water depth is less important, except in small streams. In large rivers and lakes a variety of water depths are used by salmon parr. Summer daytime, feeding habitat of brown trout is also characterized by a narrow selection of low snout water velocities. Habitat use is size-structured, which appears to be mainly a result of intraspecific competition. The small trout parr (<7 cm) are abundant in the shallow swift stream areas (<20–30 cm depths, 10–50 cm. s−1 water velocities) with cobble substrates. The larger trout have increasingly strong preferences for deep-slow stream areas, in particular pools. Water depth is considered the most important habitat variable for brown trout. Spatial niche overlap is considerable where the two species are sympatric, although young Atlantic salmon tend to be distributed more in the faster flowing and shallow habitats compared with trout. Habitat use by salmon is restricted through interspecific competition with the more aggressive brown trout (interactive segregation). However, subtle innate differences in behavior at an early stage also indicate selective segregation. Seasonal changes in habitat use related to water temperatures occur in both species. In winter, they have a stronger preference for cover and shelter, and may seek shelter in the streambed and/or deeper water. At low temperatures (higher latitudes), there are also marked shifts in habitat use during day and night as the fish become nocturnal. Passive sheltering in the substrate or aggregating in deep-slow stream areas is the typical daytime behavior. While active at night, the fish move to more exposed holding positions primarily on but also above the substrate. Diurnal changes in habitat use take place also in summer; brown trout may utilize a wider spatial niche at night with more fish occupying the shallow-slow stream areas. Brown trout and young Atlantic salmon also exhibit a flexible response to variability in streamflows, wherein habitat selection may change considerably. Important topics in need of further research include: influence of spatial measurement scale, effects of temporal and spatial variability in habitat conditions on habitat selection, effects of interactive competition and trophic interactions (predation risk) on habitat selection, influence of extreme natural events on habitat selection use or suitability (floods, ice formation and jams, droughts), and individual variation in habitat use or behavior.