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Growth variation of Atlantic salmon Salmo salar at sea affects their population-specific reproductive potential

Philip Jacobson*, Rebecca Whitlock, Magnus Huss, Kjell Leonardsson, Johan Östergren, Anna Gårdmark

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Understanding the processes shaping the dynamics of anadromous fish populations is essential for their management and conservation. Yet, little is known about how variation in performance at sea affects their population dynamics. Here, we show that variation in body growth at sea contributes to explaining variation in the reproductive potential for 2 Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) populations, but to a varying extent. To this end, we assembled data collected during 50 years for 2 Baltic salmon populations of hatchery origin, including annually released smolts, survival at sea estimates, size-specific growth at sea, annual length distributions of returning adult females and their reproductive potential. The regression models fitted to explain the reproductive potential of our 2 study populations improved when growth at sea was included as an explanatory variable, in addition to smolt year class abundance and estimates of their survival at sea. This link between body growth at sea and population-level reproductive potential suggests that growth at sea can be important to consider when resolving variation in recovery and dynamics among salmon populations sharing the same sea.