• The Influence Of Estuarine Habitats On Expression On Life History Characteristics Of Coho Salmon Smolts In South-Central Alaska

      Hoem Neher, Tammy D.; Rosenberger, Amanda; McPhee, Megan; Mueter, Franz; Zimmerman, Christian (2012)
      Expression of traits that lead to life history diversity in salmonids may provide population-level resilience and stability in dynamic environments. I examined habitat use and variability in life history trait expression in juvenile coho salmon Oncorhynchus kisutch occupying two contrasting estuary environments in south-central Alaska. My goal was two-fold: first, to determine if salmon were using estuaries as rearing environments and were therefore potentially vulnerable to selection pressures within; and second, to compare traits of salmon that reared in contrasting estuary environments to explore the potential for differential trait expression related to estuary size and habitat complexity differences. Juvenile coho salmon reared in estuaries for extended periods of time and patterns of use corresponded to environmental conditions within the estuaries. Populations using adjacent but contrasting estuary environments exhibited differential trait expression and were genetically distinct. My work highlights how pristine, functioning estuary habitats contribute to resilience of salmon populations to environmental changes in two ways: first, by providing habitats for individuals to increase in size and condition prior to ocean entry; and second, by providing for alternative life history tactics (providing quality habitat to delay marine entry times and increase body size). Management approaches for resilient salmon runs must therefore maintain both watershed and estuary function.