Effects of Multiple Acute Stressors on the Predator Avoidance Ability and Physiology of Juvenile Chinook Salmon

Northern squawfish Ptychocheilus oregonensis are the predominant predators of juvenile Pacific salmonids Oncorhynchus spp. inthe Columbia River, and their predation rates are greatest just below dams. Because juvenile salmonids are commonly subjected to multiple stressors at dams in the course of their seaward migration, high predation rates below dams may be due in part to an increase in the vulnerability of stressed fish. I conducted laboratory experiments to examine the predator avoidance ability and physiological stress responses of juvenile chinook salmon O. tshawytscha subjected to treatments (stressors) designed to simulate routine hatchery practices (multiple handlings) or dam passage (multiple agitations). Both stressors resulted in lethargic behavior in the fish, and agitation also caused disorientation and occasional injury. When equal numbers of stressed and unstressed fish were exposed to northern squawfish for up to 1 h, significantly more stressed fish were eaten, but this effect was not evident during longer exposures. The lack of differential predation in trials lasting up to 24 h can be explained by the rapid development of schooling behavior in the prey, but other possibilities exist, such as changing ratios of stressed and unstressed prey over time. Concentrations of plasma cortisol, glucose, and lactate in fish subjected to multiple stressors were similar and sometimes cumulative, returned to prestress levels within 6-24 h, and correlated poorly with predator avoidance ability. My results suggest that juvenile salmonids are capable of avoiding predators within 1 h after being subjected to multiple acute stressors even though physiological homeostasis may be altered for up to 24 h. Therefore, because juvenile salmonids typically reside in tailrace areas for only a short time after dam passage, measures aimed at reducing physical stress or protecting them as they migrate through dam tailraces may help alleviate the relatively intense predation in these areas.
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