Time series covering up to four decades reveals major changes and drivers of marine growth and proportion of repeat spawners in an Atlantic salmon population
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionEcology and Evolution. 2022, 12 (4), e8780. 10.1002/ece3.8780
Wild Atlantic salmon populations have declined in many regions and are affected by diverse natural and anthropogenic factors. To facilitate management guidelines, precise knowledge of mechanisms driving population changes in demographics and life history traits is needed. Our analyses were conducted on (a) age and growth data from scales of salmon caught by angling in the river Etneelva, Norway, covering smolt year classes from 1980 to 2018, (b) extensive sampling of the whole spawning run in the fish trap from 2013 onwards, and (c) time series of sea surface temperature, zooplankton biomass, and salmon lice infestation intensity. Marine growth during the first year at sea displayed a distinct stepwise decline across the four decades. Simultaneously, the population shifted from predominantly 1SW to 2SW salmon, and the proportion of repeat spawners increased from 3 to 7%. The latter observation is most evident in females and likely due to decreased marine exploitation. Female repeat spawners tended to be less catchable than males by anglers. Depending on the time period analyzed, marine growth rate during the first year at sea was both positively and negatively associated with sea surface temperature. Zooplankton biomass was positively associated with growth, while salmon lice infestation intensity was negatively associated with growth. Collectively, these results are likely to be linked with both changes in oceanic conditions and harvest regimes. Our conflicting results regarding the influence of sea surface temperature on marine growth are likely to be caused by long-term increases in temperature, which may have triggered (or coincided with) ecosystem shifts creating generally poorer growth conditions over time, but within shorter datasets warmer years gave generally higher growth. We encourage management authorities to expand the use of permanently monitored reference rivers with complete trapping facilities, like the river Etneelva, generating valuable long-term data for future analyses.