• Open Access

Evolutionary history of Pacific salmon in dynamic environments


Robin Waples, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, 2725 Montlake Boulevard East, Seattle, WA, USA. Tel.: 206 860 3254; fax: 206 860 3335; e-mail: robin.waples@noaa.gov


Contemporary evolution of Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) is best viewed in the context of the evolutionary history of the species and the dynamic ecosystems they inhabit. Speciation was complete by the late Miocene, leaving c. six million years for intraspecific diversification. Following the most recent glacial maximum, large areas became available for recolonization. Current intraspecific diversity is thus the product of recent evolution overlaid onto divergent historical lineages forged during recurrent episodes of Pleistocene glaciation. In northwestern North America, dominant habitat features have been relatively stable for the past 5000 years, but salmon ecosystems remain dynamic because of disturbance regimes (volcanic eruptions, landslides, wildfires, floods, variations in marine and freshwater productivity) that occur on a variety of temporal and spatial scales. These disturbances both create selective pressures for adaptive responses by salmon and inhibit long-term divergence by periodically extirpating local populations and creating episodic dispersal events that erode emerging differences. Recent anthropogenic changes are replicated pervasively across the landscape and interrupt processes that allow natural habitat recovery. If anthropogenic changes can be shaped to produce disturbance regimes that more closely mimic (in both space and time) those under which the species evolved, Pacific salmon should be well-equipped to deal with future challenges, just as they have throughout their evolutionary history.