Pacific salmon species are of immense cultural and economic value throughout their North American range, from California to Alaska. They also play an important ecological role by interacting with other species in rivers where they are born, in the ocean where they spend most of their lives, and later again in the river where they return to breed. As a result of this distinctive trait of returning to their river of origin, salmon populations often develop adaptations to local habitat conditions.
Coho Salmon Photo: Morgan Bond
During the 20th century, most salmon populations have been affected by human activities such as fishing, installation of hydroelectric dams, and agriculture and construction near river habitats. In the future, we expect climate change to affect rainfall, temperature, and snowmelt patterns, and to alter the abundance of predators and food resources in the coastal ocean. With colleagues at NOAA Fisheries, University of Washington, and Simon Fraser University, I will study the sensitivity of salmon populations to scenarios of climate change and to future human impacts on river habitat. By examining previous adaptations by salmon to changing conditions, we hope to interpret their ability to react with a behavioral or evolutionary response to future stresses. We will also identify conservation strategies that best promote resilience.