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Freshwater life-histories of Steelhead Trout controlled by environment and co-occurring pink salmon

A new study from the Salmon Watersheds Lab, led by PhD student Colin Bailey, discovered that juvenile steelhead life-histories seem to respond to multiple factors in the freshwater environment. This study examined 40 years of data on age, size, and abundance of juvenile steelhead trout migrating to sea in a well-studied population in northern Vancouver Island.

Juvenile steelhead may migrate to sea after spending between 1 – 5 years in their natal stream. However, following large runs of pink salmon or artificial nutrient addition, juvenile steelhead often migrated to sea at younger ages. Pink salmon eggs released during spawning are likely an important food source for young steelhead. Smolts also tended to be larger for their age following artificial nutrient addition and/or years when it was warmer. 


The number of smolts produced was also associated with multiple factors. First, there was strong evidence for population regulation; the number of smolts per spawner was lower when there were more spawners. Both nutrient addition and lower air temperatures were associated with greater juvenile steelhead production prior to 1991, while greater pink salmon abundance was associated with greater juvenile steelhead production after 1990.


A 4-decade time-series of data collected at the Keogh River, Port Hardy, BC was used to characterize links between the steelhead life cycle and environmental factors. Since the early 1970s, information has been collected from the Keogh River using fish fences, angling, and a resistivity counter (a way of counting fish by detecting the drop in electrical resistance as fish pass over low energy electrical current). These data would not exist without the on-going collaboration between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, British Columbia Ministry of the Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, and Instream Fisheries Research to monitor Keogh River salmonids.


Although these results come from a single stream, they suggest that steelhead life-histories are quite responsive to their environment. For instance, it is possible that larger returns of co-occurring pink salmon might slightly increase the production of juvenile steelhead.

Media: SFU News, Trout Unlimited

Latest News

Nov, 2019 - Welcome to our new Lab Manager Tash Prokop! Assisting her will be long-time Research Assistant Mikayla More O'Ferrall.

Sep 19, 2019 - The AFS/TWS Joint Conference in Reno, NV (Sep 29-Oct 3) is fast approaching! We have current and past lab members presenting their research and hosting symposiums. Stay tuned for more highlights!

Sep 11, 2019 - Welcome Dylan Cunningham (MSc student) and Steven Brownlee (PhD student) to our lab! 


Sep 1, 2019 - Congratulations Jon on receiving your full tenure professorship! 

Aug 20, 2019 - Jon Moore and colleague David Schindler published an op-ed in the Seattle Times titled "Salmon and mining: The science is clear, the future is uncertain". 

Jul 1, 2019 - Congratulations to Kyle Wilson for winning the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship!

Jun 13, 2019 - Congratulations Emma Hodgson (Postdoc) and co-authors on your paper titled "Moving Beyond Silos in Cumulative Effects Assessment".

Jun 12, 2019 - Elissa Sweeney-Bergen successfully defended her MSc on environmental change and sockeye salmon life histories in the Babine River watershed. Congratulations!!

May 14, 2019 - Will Atlas successfully defended his PhD on ​population assessment and climate impact monitoring for Heiltsuk-led salmon stewardship. Congratulations Dr. Atlas!!

Apr 17, 2019 - Kara Pitman (PhD candidate) and Jon Moore are featured in The New York Times. Check out their story about glaciers and salmon here!.

Apr 15, 2019 - Congratulations Colin Bailey (PhD candidate) and co-authors on your paper titled "Salmon egg subsidies and interference competition among stream fishes".

Mar 29, 2019 - Congratulations to Michael Arbeider (past MSc student) and co-authors on their new paper titled "Integrating prey dynamics, diet, and biophysical factors across an estuary seascape for four fish species".


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