The relative roles of domestication, rearing environment, prior residence and body size in deciding territorial contests between hatchery and wild juvenile salmon.
Interactions between captive-reared and wild salmonids are frequent because hatcheries annually rear millions of fish for release in conservation programmes while many thousands of domesticated fish escape from fish farms. However, the outcome of competition between captive-reared and wild fish is not clear: wild fish may be smaller and less aggressive than hatchery fish, but they have more local experience and a prior residence advantage. Moreover, it is important to know whether any competitive differences are genetic (due to the process of domestication) or due to the rearing environment. We therefore examined the factors influencing competition for feeding territories in juvenile Atlantic salmon. We studied the effect of domestication by using three independent stocks of both domesticated and wild-origin fish, all of which were reared in a common hatchery environment. We also used fish from the same wild stocks that had been living in the wild. Territorial contests were staged in stream tank compartments between pairs of fish differing in origin or rearing environment; the relative importance of body size and prior residence was also assessed. All three stocks of domesticated fish were generally dominant over wild-origin fish when both had been raised in a common hatchery environment. If the wild-origin fish were given a 2-day period of prior residence on the territory this asymmetry in dominance was reversed. However, domesticated fish did not gain any additional advantage from being prior residents. The relative body size of the two contestants had a negligible effect on contest outcomes. Truly wild fish (i.e. those of wild origin that had also grown up in the wild) were generally dominant over domesticated or wild-origin fish that had been hatchery-reared. Differences in body size between contestants had no effect on the outcome. Synthesis and applications. These results show that, while juvenile farmed Atlantic salmon are inherently more aggressive than wild-origin fish, the hatchery environment reduces their ability to compete for territories with wild resident fish. Rearing salmon in conventional hatcheries for later release into the wild where natural populations already exist may not be a prudent conservation measure; it is preferable to plant eggs or first-feeding fry rather than attempt to 'help' the fish by rearing them through the early life stages.