Nutrients in Salmonid Ecosystems: Sustaining Production and Biodiversity

Searching for a Life History Approach to Salmon Escapement Management

E. Eric Knudsen, Eric W. Symmes, and E. Joseph Margraf


Abstract.—A number of Pacific salmon populations have already been lost and many others throughout the range are in various states of decline. Recent research has documented that Pacific salmon carcasses serve as a key delivery vector of marine-derived nutrients into the freshwater portions of their ecosystems. This nutrient supply plays a critical biological feedback role in salmon sustainability by supporting juvenile salmon production. We first demonstrate how nutrient feedback potential to juvenile production may be unaccounted for in spawner-recruit models of populations under long-term exploitation. We then present a heuristic, life history-based, spreadsheet survival model that incorporates salmon carcass-driven nutrient feedback to the freshwater components of the salmon ecosystem. The productivity of a hypothetical coho salmon population was simulated using rates from the literature for survival from spawner to egg, egg to fry, fry to smolt, and smolt to adult. The effects of climate variation and nutrient feedback on survival were incorporated, as were density-dependent effects of the numbers of spawners and fry on freshwater survival of eggs and juveniles. The unexploited equilibrium population was subjected to 100 years of 20, 40, 60, and 80% harvest. Each harvest scenario greater than 20% brought the population to a reduced steady state, regardless of generous compensatory survival at low population sizes. Increasing harvest reduced the positive effects of nutrient contributions to population growth. Salmon researchers should further explore this modeling approach for establishing escapement goals. Given the importance of nutrient feedback, managers should strive for generous escapements that support nutrient rebuilding, as well as egg deposition, to ensure strong future salmon production.