Scientists in the past 20 years have recognized that salmon stocks vary not only year to year, but also on decades-long time cycles. One example is the 30-year to 80-year booms and busts in salmon runs in Alaska and on the West Coast driven by the climate pattern known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.
Now work led by University of Washington researchers reveals those decadal cycles may overlay even more important, centuries-long conditions, or regimes, that influence fish productivity. Cycles lasting up to 200 years were found while examining 500-year records of salmon abundance in Southwest Alaska. Natural variations in the abundance of spawning salmon are as large those due to human harvest.
“We’ve been able to reconstruct what salmon runs looked like before the start of commercial fishing. But rather than finding a flat baseline – some sort of long-term average run size – we’ve found that salmon runs fluctuated hugely, even before commercial fishing started. That these strong or weak periods could persist for sometimes hundreds of years means we need to reconsider what we think of as ‘normal’ for salmon stocks,” said Lauren Rogers, who did this work while earning her doctorate in aquatic and fishery sciences at the UW and is now a post-doctoral researcher with the University of Oslo, Norway.
Rogers is the lead author of a paper on the findings in the Jan. 14 online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Surprisingly, salmon populations in the same regions do not all show the same changes through time. It is clear that the salmon returning to different rivers march to the beat of a different – slow – drummer,” said Daniel Schindler, UW professor of aquatic and fishery sciences and co-author of the paper.“The implications for management are profound,” Schindler said. “While it is convenient to assume that ecosystems have a constant static capacity for producing fish, or any natural resource, our data demonstrate clearly that capacity is anything but stationary. Thus, management must be ready to reduce harvesting when ecosystems become unexpectedly less productive and allow increased harvesting when ecosystems shift to more productive regimes.
“Management should also allow, and probably even encourage, fishers to move among rivers to exploit salmon populations that are particularly productive. It is not realistic to assume that all rivers in a region will perform equally well or poorly all the time,” he said.
The researchers examined sediment cores collected from 20 sockeye nursery lakes within 16 major watersheds in southwestern Alaska, including those of Bristol Bay. The scientists homed in on the isotopic signature of nitrogen that salmon accumulate in the ocean and leave behind in lake sediments when they die: When there was a lot of such nitrogen in the sediments, it meant returning runs during that time period were abundant; when there was little, runs had declined.
Climate is not the only reason for long-term changes in salmon abundance. Changes in food webs, diseases or other factors might be involved; however, at present, there are no clear explanations for the factors that cause the long-term variability observed in this study.
Most, but not all, of the lakes examined showed declines in the kind of nitrogen the scientists were tracking beginning around 1900, once commercial fisheries had developed. However, earlier fluctuations showed that natural processes had at times reduced salmon densities as much as recent commercial fisheries, the co-authors said.
“We expected to detect a signal of commercial fishing – fisheries remove a lot of the salmon, and thus salmon nitrogen, that would have otherwise ended up in the sediments. But we were surprised to find that previous returns of salmon to rivers varied just as dramatically,” Rogers said.
As the paper said, “Interestingly these same fluctuations also highlight that salmon stocks have the capacity to rebuild naturally following prolonged periods with low densities, suggesting a strong resilience of salmon to natural and anthropogenic depletion processes. Indeed, total salmon production (catch plus escapements) has been relatively high in recent years for most sockeye salmon stocks in southwestern Alaska, despite a century of intense harvesting.”
Other co-authors are Peter Lisi and Gordon Holtgrieve with the UW, Peter Leavitt and Lynda Bunting with University of Regina, Canada, Bruce Finney with Idaho State University, Daniel Selbie with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Canada, Guangjie Chen with Yunnan Normal University, China, Irene Gregory-Eaves with McGill University, Canada, and Mark Lisac and Patrick Walsh with Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska.
Funding was provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.For more information:
Sandra Hines | Newswise
Man-made underwater sound may have wider ecosystem effects than previously thought
05.02.2016 | University of Southampton
Sluggish electrons caught in action
04.02.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik
Automobiles increase the mobility of their users. However, their maneuverability is pushed to the limit by cramped inner city conditions. Those who need to...
Advance in biomedical imaging: The University of Würzburg's Biocenter has enhanced fluorescence microscopy to label and visualise up to nine different cell structures simultaneously.
Fluorescence microscopy allows researchers to visualise biomolecules in cells. They label the molecules using fluorescent probes, excite them with light and...
NASA's follow-on to the successful ICESat mission will employ a never-before-flown technique for determining the topography of ice sheets and the thickness of sea ice, but that won't be the only first for this mission.
Slated for launch in 2018, NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) also will carry a 3-D printed part made of polyetherketoneketone (PEKK),...
In the last decades, sea level has been rising continuously – about 3.3 mm per year. For reef islands such as the Maldives or the Marshall Islands a sinister picture is being painted evoking the demise of the island states and their cultures. Are the effects of sea-level rise already noticeable on reef islands? Scientists from the ZMT have now answered this question for the Takuu Atoll, a group of Pacific islands, located northeast of Papua New Guinea.
In the last decades, sea level has been rising continuously – about 3.3 mm per year. For reef islands such as the Maldives or the Marshall Islands a sinister...
The ‘Internet of Things’ is growing rapidly. Mobile phones, washing machines and the milk bottle in the fridge: the idea is that minicomputers connected to these will be able to process information, receive and send data. This requires electrical power. Transistors that are capable of switching information with a single electron use far less power than field effect transistors that are commonly used in computers. However, these innovative electronic switches do not yet work at room temperature. Scientists working on the new EU research project ‘Ions4Set’ intend to change this. The program will be launched on February 1. It is coordinated by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR).
“Billions of tiny computers will in future communicate with each other via the Internet or locally. Yet power consumption currently remains a great obstacle”,...
02.02.2016 | Event News
26.01.2016 | Event News
26.01.2016 | Event News
05.02.2016 | Life Sciences
05.02.2016 | Materials Sciences
05.02.2016 | Physics and Astronomy