• Open Access

Potential for anthropogenic disturbances to influence evolutionary change in the life history of a threatened salmonid


John G. Williams, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, 2725 Montlake Boulevard East, Seattle, WA 98112-2097, USA.
Tel.: (206) 860-3277; fax: (206) 860-3267; e-mail: John.G.Williams@noaa.gov


Although evolutionary change within most species is thought to occur slowly, recent studies have identified cases where evolutionary change has apparently occurred over a few generations. Anthropogenically altered environments appear particularly open to rapid evolutionary change over comparatively short time scales. Here, we consider a Pacific salmon population that may have experienced life-history evolution, in response to habitat alteration, within a few generations. Historically, juvenile fall Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) from the Snake River migrated as subyearlings to the ocean. With changed riverine conditions that resulted from hydropower dam construction, some juveniles now migrate as yearlings, but more interestingly, the yearling migration tactic has made a large contribution to adult returns over the last decade. Optimal life-history models suggest that yearling juvenile migrants currently have a higher fitness than subyearling migrants. Although phenotypic plasticity likely accounts for some of the change in migration tactics, we suggest that evolution also plays a significant role. Evolutionary change prompted by anthropogenic alterations to the environment has general implications for the recovery of endangered species. The case study we present herein illustrates the importance of integrating evolutionary considerations into conservation planning for species at risk.