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Egg consumption in mature Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.)

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For over a century, conventional wisdom has maintained that Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) cease feeding when they return to freshwater rivers to spawn. Here, we overturn this belief by showing that multiple species of Pacific salmon consume eggs during spawning. Overall, 13% of stomachs contained eggs, and feeding rates were estimated at up to 14 eggs or 52 kJ per day. Feeding experiments revealed that mature salmon could digest eggs, as fed salmon maintained significantly higher body mass than unfed salmon. Such egg consumption presents a fundamental shift in our understanding of Pacific salmon ecology that may have important implications for migration and management models. Indeed, the energy from consumed eggs could allow salmon to migrate up to an additional 3.8km upstream per day of feeding, or extend the duration of spawning activity by up to 12%. Furthermore, salmon stocks may have evolved local adaptations to their specific migration and spawning requirements that include nutrients from salmon eggs. Thus, successful salmon management efforts may need to preserve not only spawning habitat and migration corridors, but also feeding opportunities.

Depuis plus d’un siècle, il est généralement convenu que les saumons du Pacifique (Oncorhynchus spp.) cessent de se nourrir lorsqu’ils retournent dans les rivières d’eau douce pour frayer. Nous infirmons cette croyance en montrant que plusieurs espèces de saumons du Pacifique consomment des œufs durant la fraie. Globalement, 13 % des estomacs contiennent des œufs et nous estimons les taux de consommation à 14 œufs ou 52 kJ par jour. Des expériences alimentaires montrent que les saumons matures sont capables de digérer les œufs, puisque les saumons alimentés maintiennent une masse corporelle significativement supérieure à celles des saumons qui jeûnent. Une telle consommation des œufs représente un changement fondamental dans notre compréhension de l’écologie des saumons du Pacifique, ce qui peut avoir des conséquences sur les modèles de migration et de gestion. En effet, l’énergie provenant de la consommation des œufs pourrait permettre aux saumons de migrer jusqu’à 3,8 km plus en amont par jour d’alimentation ou de prolonger leurs activités de fraie de jusqu’à 12 %. De plus, les stocks de saumons peuvent avoir développé des adaptations locales pour satisfaire leurs besoins spécifiques de migration et de fraie, ce qui inclut l’obtention de nutriments à partir des œufs de saumons. Ainsi, les efforts fructueux de gestion des saumons doivent peut-être préserver non seulement les habitats de fraie et les corridors de migration, mais aussi les occasions d’alimentation.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2009

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  • Published continuously since 1901 (under various titles), this monthly journal is the primary publishing vehicle for the multidisciplinary field of aquatic sciences. It publishes perspectives (syntheses, critiques, and re-evaluations), discussions (comments and replies), articles, and rapid communications, relating to current research on cells, organisms, populations, ecosystems, or processes that affect aquatic systems. The journal seeks to amplify, modify, question, or redirect accumulated knowledge in the field of fisheries and aquatic science. Occasional supplements are dedicated to single topics or to proceedings of international symposia.
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