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Aquaculture Environment Interactions

    AEI prepress abstract   -  DOI:

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

    Melissa K. Holborn*, Samantha E. Crowley, Steve J. Duffy, Amber M. Messmer, Tony Kess, J. Brian Dempson, Brendan F. Wringe, Ian A. Fleming, Paul Bentzen, Ian R. Bradbury

    *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 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 in 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 was 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.