Spatial and Temporal Variability in the Trophic Ecology of Atlantic Salmon in the North Atlantic Inferred from Analyses of Stable Isotope Signatures
R. Niloshini Sinnatamby, J. Brian Dempson, Gerald Chaput, Francois Caron, Eero Niemelä, Jaakko Erkinaro, and Michael Power
Abstract.—In many areas of the North Atlantic, populations of Atlantic salmon Salmo salar are now either in a state of decline or extirpated such that concern over the continued survival of the species has been given more attention in recent years despite large reductions in directed ocean fisheries. Previous investigations have established linkages between ocean climate conditions and variability in abundance or survival. However, one avenue not previously explored considers whether changes in marine food webs owing to ever increasing and unsustainable levels of exploitation on many marine species—the so-called “fishing down marine food webs” hypothesis—could influence survival and abundance of salmon as a result of shifts in trophic position or changes in energy flows. Since Atlantic salmon are opportunistic feeders during the marine life history phase, the species lends itself well to studies associated with marine environmental conditions and food web interactions. Here, we examine long-term variability in the trophic ecology of Atlantic salmon using analyses of stable isotope signatures of carbon and nitrogen (δ13C and δ15N). Signatures were extracted from the marine growth portion of scales of maiden one-sea-winter fish. Data were obtained from nine Canadian and one north European river (Teno) covering periods extending over three to four decades. Significant differences in δ13C and δ15N signatures were found to exist among rivers, as well as among years within rivers. Trends over time in either δ13C or δ15N signatures were evident in only a few situations, thus providing little evidence of substantive changes in the trophic ecology of salmon in the North Atlantic. In addition, isotopic signatures were largely invariant in relation to variations in abundance or to various environmental measures characterizing ocean climate conditions in the North Atlantic.