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Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) return after an absence of nearly 90 years: a case of reversion to anadromy

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We document the recent reappearance of anadromous sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) that were thought to have been extirpated by the construction of hydroelectric dams on the Coquitlam and Alouette rivers in British Columbia, Canada, in 1914 and 1927, respectively. Unexpected downstream migrations of juveniles during experimental water releases into both rivers in 2005 and 2006 preceded upstream return migrations of adults in 2007 and 2008. Genetic (microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA) markers and stable isotope (δ34S and 87Sr/86Sr) patterns in otoliths confirm that both the juvenile downstream migrants and adult upstream migrants were progeny of nonanadromous sockeye salmon (kokanee) that inhabit Coquitlam and Alouette reservoirs. Low genetic diversity and evidence of genetic bottlenecks suggest that the kokanee populations in both reservoirs originated from relatively few anadromous individuals that residualized after downstream migration was largely prevented by the construction of dams. Once given an opportunity for upstream and downstream migration, both populations appear capable of reverting to a successful anadromous form, even after 25 generations.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Biological Station, 3190 Hammond Bay Road, Nanaimo, BC V9T 6N7, Canada. 2: Pacific Salmon Commission, 600 - 1155 Robson Street, Vancouver, BC V6E 1B5, Canada. 3: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Institute of Oceans and Science, P.O. Box 6000, 9860 West Saanich Road, Sidney, BC V8L 4B2, Canada. 4: US Geological Survey, Western Fisheries Research Center, 6505 NE 65th Street, Seattle, WA 98115, USA. 5: US Department of Interior, 2800 Cottage Way, MP-151, Sacramento, CA 95825, USA. 6: Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA. 7: Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1567, USA.

Publication date: 2011-10-01

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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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