Simulating nutrient release from parental carcasses increases the growth, biomass and genetic diversity of juvenile Atlantic salmon.
The net transport of nutrients by migratory fish from oceans to inland spawning areas has decreased due to population declines and migration barriers. Restoration of nutrients to increasingly oligotrophic upland streams (that were historically salmon spawning areas) have shown short-term benefits for juvenile salmon, but the longer term consequences are little known. Here we simulated the deposition of a small number of adult Atlantic salmon Salmo salar carcasses at the end of the spawning period in five Scottish upland streams ('high parental nutrient' treatment), while leaving five reference streams without carcasses ('low parental nutrient' treatment). All streams received exactly the same number of salmon eggs (n=3,000) drawn in equal number from the same 30 wild-origin families, thereby controlling for initial egg density and genetic composition. We then monitored the resulting juvenile salmon and their macroinvertebrate prey, repeating the carcass addition treatment in the next spawning season. Macroinvertebrate biomass and abundance were five times higher in the high parental nutrient streams, even 1 year after the carcass addition, and led to faster growth of juvenile salmon over the next 2 years (but with no change in population density). This faster growth led to more fish exceeding the size threshold that would trigger emigration to sea at 2 rather than 3 years of age. There was also higher genetic diversity among surviving salmon in high parental nutrient streams; genotyping showed that these effects were not due to immigration but to differential survival. Synthesis and applications. This 2-year field experiment shows that adding nutrients that simulate the presence of small numbers of adult salmon carcasses can have long-term effects on the growth rate of juvenile salmon, likely increasing the number that will migrate to sea early and also increasing their genetic diversity. However, the feasibility of adding nutrients to spawning streams as a management tool to boost salmon populations will depend on whether the benefits at this stage are maintained over the entire life cycle.