Population differences in response to hypoxic stress in Atlantic salmon


Correspondence: Jessica Côte, INRA, UMR 985 Ecologie et Santé des Ecosystèmes, F-35042 Rennes, France.

Tel.: +33 2 23 48 55 29; fax: +33 2 23 48 54 40; e-mail: cote.jessica@wanadoo.fr


Understanding whether populations can adapt to new environmental conditions is a major issue in conservation and evolutionary biology. Aquatic organisms are increasingly exposed to environmental changes linked with human activities in river catchments. For instance, the clogging of bottom substratum by fine sediments is observed in many rivers and usually leads to a decrease in dissolved oxygen concentrations in gravel beds. Such hypoxic stress can alter the development and even be lethal for Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) embryos that spend their early life into gravel beds. In this study, we used a common garden experiment to compare the responses to hypoxic stress of four genetically differentiated and environmentally contrasted populations. We used factorial crossing designs to measure additive genetic variation of early life-history traits in each population. Embryos were reared under normoxic and hypoxic conditions, and we measured their survival, incubation time and length at the end of embryonic development. Under hypoxic conditions, embryos had a lower survival and hatched later than in normoxic conditions. We found different hypoxia reaction norms among populations, but almost no population effect in both treatments. We also detected significant sire × treatment interactions in most populations and a tendency for heritability values to be lower under stressful conditions. Overall, these results reveal a high degree of phenotypic plasticity in salmon populations that nevertheless differ in their adaptive potential to hypoxia given the distinct reaction norms observed between and within populations.