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Resource pulses level the playing field and benefit ‘underdog’ stream fishes

Researchers from the Salmon Watershed Lab have found when salmon returns are high, smaller and less dominant fishes get a chance to feast on their eggs.


For their study, recently published in Ecosphere, PhD candidate Colin Bailey and Professor Jonathan Moore experimented with adding between six and 3,575 pink salmon eggs to different stretches of the Keogh River on Vancouver Island.


To determine which species and what sizes of fish were eating the salmon eggs, fish were caught, lightly anesthetized and their stomachs flushed before a recovery and release back into the stream. This helped the researchers to see how the sudden abundance of food was disrupting the normal dominance hierarchy among stream fishes.


They found that less dominant fish, such as young Coho salmon, small steelhead trout, and bottom-dwelling sculpins benefited from large quantities of salmon eggs in these experiments.


When food is regular and sparse, the largest fish in a stream will generally dominate and eat the food but when salmon eggs are abundant during years of high salmon returns, these larger fish get full and the rest of the fish in the food web can feast.


The current study suggests that declines in the number of spawning salmon could impact food resources for the entire fish communities. In the Keogh River, pink salmon runs typically produce abundant drifting salmon eggs in years of high returns. In other rivers in British Columbia, large pink, chum or sockeye salmon runs have the potential to generate similar feeding opportunities for ‘underdog’ fishes.


Media: SFU Press Release980CKW, CFAX1070, Victoria News, Trout Unlimited.

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Latest News

Apr 19, 2021 - Congratulations to PhD candidate Sam Wilson on the successful defense of your thesis! Sam will be staying on with the lab as a Postdoctoral Researcher.

Apr 12, 2021 - Congrats to Sam Wilson and Jon on the publication of your paper on phenological mismatch and marine survival in steelhead trout.

Apr 7, 2021 - Elissa Sweeney-Bergen and Jon had a paper published in Environmental Biology of Fishes today.

Feb 10, 2021 - We're excited to announce a new Salmon Watersheds Lab collaborative research project to improve genomics tools for assigning central coast sockeye caught in mixed stock fisheries to their population of origin. 

Jan 28, 2021 - Congrats to former lab member Will Atlas, as well as Karl Seitz and Jon on the publication of their paper on temperature-mediated mortality and migration delays in the Koeye estuary.

Dec 9, 2020 - Salmon Watershed alum Will Atlas, Jon Moore and others' paper on indigenous fisheries management was published today in BioScience. The research inspired this feature article from The Narwhal.

Dec 7, 2020 - Congratulations to PhD candidate Kara Pitman and MSc student Luke Warkentin on their successful thesis defenses!

Nov 18, 2020 - Congrats to Research Associate Karl Seitz on the publication of his paper in Ecosphere "Size-spectra analysis in the estuary."


Nov 18, 2020 - The Watershed Futures Initiative officially launched with its first online event on cumulative effects assessment methods. View the event materials here.

Nov 17, 2020 - Jon Moore featured in a Salmon Nation panel discussion on Indigenous Science. You can watch the livestream here


Nov 9, 2020 - We are hiring for a postdoc or research scientist to study perceptions of environmental risk pathways, as part of the Watershed Futures Initiative.

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Our Collaborators & Funders

Without the support of the following partners, our research would not be possible. Thank you!

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