Research Summary: Time to Evolve? Potential Evolutionary Responses of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon to Climate Change and Effects on Persistence


Evolutionary adaptation affects demographic resilience to climate change but few studies have attempted to project changes in selective pressures or quantify impacts of trait responses on population dynamics and extinction risk. We used a novel individual-based model to explore potential evolutionary changes in migration timing and the consequences for population persistence in sockeye salmon Oncorhynchus nerka in the Fraser River, Canada, under scenarios of future climate warming. Adult sockeye salmon are highly sensitive to increases in water temperature during their arduous upriver migration, raising concerns about the fate of these ecologically, culturally, and commercially important fish in a warmer future. Our results suggest that evolution of upriver migration timing could allow these salmon to avoid increasingly frequent stressful temperatures, with the odds of population persistence increasing in proportion to the trait heritability and phenotypic variance. With a simulated 2°C increase in average summer river temperatures by 2100, adult migration timing from the ocean to the river advanced by ∼10 days when the heritability was 0.5, while the risk of quasi-extinction was only 17% of that faced by populations with zero evolutionary potential (i.e., heritability fixed at zero). The rates of evolution required to maintain persistence under simulated scenarios of moderate to rapid warming are plausible based on estimated heritabilities and rates of microevolution of timing traits in salmon and related species, although further empirical work is required to assess potential genetic and ecophysiological constraints on phenological adaptation. These results highlight the benefits to salmon management of maintaining evolutionary potential within populations, in addition to conserving key habitats and minimizing additional stressors where possible, as a means to build resilience to ongoing climate change. More generally, they demonstrate the importance and feasibility of considering evolutionary processes, in addition to ecology and demography, when projecting population responses to environmental change.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 28-June-2011

Author(s): Reed T., Schindler D., Hague M., Patterson D., Meir E., Waples R., Hinch S.


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