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Aquaculture Environment Interactions

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AEI 14:205-218 (2022)  -  DOI:

Precocial male maturation contributes to the introgression of farmed Atlantic salmon into wild populations

Melissa K. Holborn1,*, Samantha E. Crowley2, Steve J. Duffy1, Amber M. Messmer1, Tony Kess1, J. Brian Dempson1, Brendan F. Wringe3, Ian A. Fleming2, Paul Bentzen4, Ian R. Bradbury1

1Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, St. John’s, NL A1C 5X1, Canada
2Department of Ocean Sciences, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, NL A1C 5S7, Canada
3Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Dartmouth, NS B2Y 4A2, Canada
4Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The escape of domesticated Atlantic salmon Salmo salar from aquaculture facilities represents a continued threat to the genetic and demographic stability of wild salmon stocks. Escaped farm-origin salmon have been shown to hybridize with wild conspecifics, yet the long-term genetic impacts are generally unknown. Theoretically, life history variation, specifically precocial maturation of male hybrids, could fast-track introgression, but evidence for this has been sparse. Here, we used empirical and experimental data to examine the role of precocious male maturation in introgression. We examined hybrid class composition using juvenile sampling and genetic assignment over a 5 yr period following an escape event in southern Newfoundland, a region with high rates of natural male precocial maturation. Initially following the escape, the proportion of first-generation (F1) hybrids was high and then decreased annually, contrasting the proportion of backcross wild individuals, which increased over time. The presence and temporal distribution of backcross wild individuals supports the hypothesis that high rates of precocial maturation can fast-track the long-term impacts of escaped farmed salmon on wild populations via interbreeding. This was experimentally tested using lab-created wild, farmed, and F1 parr released and recaptured from a Newfoundland river to assess levels of precocious male maturation. Observed rates of maturation of F1 hybrids were high and similar to wild parr (77 vs. 73%, respectively), indicating that most F1 hybrids mature precocially. Our results suggest that rates of precocial male maturation should be explicitly considered in risk assessments evaluating the genetic impacts of escaped farmed salmon on wild populations.

KEY WORDS: Hybridization · Salmo salar · Aquaculture interactions · Precocial maturity · Alternate life history

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Cite this article as: Holborn MK, Crowley SE, Duffy SJ, Messmer AM and others (2022) Precocial male maturation contributes to the introgression of farmed Atlantic salmon into wild populations. Aquacult Environ Interact 14:205-218.

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