The drivers and implications of spatial and temporal variation in the feeding ecology of juvenile Chinook Salmon




Hertz, Eric

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Feeding ecology of organisms has a critical influence on ecosystem structure, function, and stability, but how feeding ecology of a single organism varies over multiple spatial and temporal scales in nature is unknown. Here, I characterize the factors driving and the implications of variability in feeding ecology of juvenile Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) over multiple spatial and temporal scales using stable isotopes and stomach contents. Significant variation in juvenile Chinook salmon feeding ecology at the individual-level was found to occur off of the west coast of Vancouver Island (WCVI) (British Columbia, Canada). This variation is correlated with a diet shift from feeding on invertebrates to feeding on fish, as the salmon increase in size. I developed a novel Bayesian stable isotope method to model this shift while taking into account the time-lag associated with isotopic turnover. I found that this model was able to replicate patterns seen in a simplified coastal food web, and that resource-use estimates from this stable isotope model somewhat diverged from a compilation of stomach content data. Next, I compared the feeding ecology of Chinook Salmon in one season and year along nearly their entire North American range. I found considerable spatial variation in ontogeny and feeding ecology, with individuals of the same size from different geographic regions having different δ13C, δ15N, and trophic levels. These differences likely corresponded to regional variability in sea surface temperature, ocean entry date and size, and growth rates. Subsequently, I quantified temporal shifts in the feeding ecology of Chinook Salmon from WCVI. I found that feeding ecology over winter was different from feeding ecology in the fall, and that this likely corresponds to shifts in the prey field. Finally, I found that WCVI juvenile Chinook Salmon showed significant interannual variability in feeding ecology, and that the interannual variability in the δ13C value of juvenile salmon (indicative of primary productivity or nutrient source) predicts their smolt survival. In turn, large-scale climate variability determines the δ13C values of salmon—thus mechanistically linking climate to survival through feeding ecology. These results suggest that qualities propagated upwards from the base of the food chain have a cascading influence that is detectable in salmon feeding ecology. I conclude that the feeding ecology of juvenile Chinook Salmon varies on individual, spatial, season and interannual scales, and that this variability has impacts on survival rates. These findings have implications for the understanding of ontogeny in natural systems in general, allowing for modelling of ontogeny in previously intractable ecological systems. Furthermore there may also be implications for Chinook Salmon management, considering that feeding ecology showed utility as a mechanistic leading indicator of survival rates.



Stable isotope, Diet, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, Ontogeny, Isotopic turnover