Centennial-scale fluctuations and regional complexity characterize Pacific salmon population dynamics over the past five centuries

Lauren Rogers et al. in PNAS

Lauren A. Rogers, Daniel E. Schindler, Peter J. Lisi, Gordon W. Holtgrieve, Peter R. Leavitt, Lynda Bunting, Bruce P. Finney, Daniel T. Selbie, Guangjie Chen, Irene Gregory-Eaves, Mark J. Lisac and Patrick B. Walsh

Observational data from the past century have highlighted the importance of interdecadal modes of variability in fish population dynamics, but how these patterns of variation fit into a broader temporal and spatial context remains largely unknown. We analyzed time series of stable nitrogen isotopes from the sediments of 20 sockeye salmon nursery lakes across western Alaska to characterize temporal and spatial patterns in salmon abundance over the past ∼500 y. Although some stocks varied on interdecadal time scales (30- to 80-y cycles), centennial-scale variation, undetectable in modern-day catch records and survey data, has dominated salmon population dynamics over the past 500 y. Before 1900, variation in abundance was clearly not synchronous among stocks, and the only temporal signal common to lake sediment records from this region was the onset of commercial fishing in the late 1800s. Thus, historical changes in climate did not synchronize stock dynamics over centennial time scales, emphasizing that ecosystem complexity can produce a diversity of ecological responses to regional climate forcing. Our results show that marine fish populations may alternate between naturally driven periods of high and low abundance over time scales of decades to centuries and suggest that management models that assume time-invariant productivity or carrying capacity parameters may be poor representations of the biological reality in these systems.

PNAS (early edition), January 15, 2013

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Published Jan. 17, 2013 2:14 PM - Last modified Nov. 23, 2017 10:03 AM