Causes and Consequences of Straying into Small Populations of Pacific Salmon

By Nolan N. Bett, Sean M. Naman, Scott G. Hinch, Nicholas J. Burnett, and Michael R. Donaldson.

Most Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp. migrate to their natal sites to spawn. Some, however, stray into nonnatal habitats and interact (e.g., reproduce) with individuals from other populations. Pacific salmon straying has been heavily studied for several decades, particularly from the perspective of the populations that donate the stray migrants. Conservation consequences are experienced primarily by the populations that receive strays, though, and there is recent evidence of significant levels of genetic introgression in small recipient populations, which could contribute to the loss of local adaptations. Straying may also provide the benefit of a demographic rescue effect that could save declining recipient populations from extirpation.

The local adaptive advantages could be lost even when strays come from nearby donor populations because adaptive advantages occur in Pacific salmon at fine spatial scales (Reisenbichler 1988; Fraser et al. 2011).

We highlight the influence of population abundances on the magnitude of straying into recipient populations and demonstrate this using evidence we collected from a small population of Sockeye Salmon O. nerka in British Columbia, Canada. We also review potential factors that might promote higher donor stray rates and therefore recipient straying. Evidence of factors that affect straying is limited and we identify several knowledge gaps, as well as anthropogenic activities that could promote straying. We encourage further discussion and research on the potential effects of recipient straying and the factors that affect straying rates.

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