Large-Scale Exogenous Forcing of Long-Term Pacific Salmon Production and Ecosystem Interactions in Western North America
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Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) production strongly influences the ecosystems, cultures and economies of the Northeast Pacific. Historical variability in population sizes is complex, reflecting natural and human drivers. The nature and extent of such ‘exogenous’ controls on salmon and their nursery ecosystems are poorly understood, a significant impediment to sustainable fisheries management. Novel applications of paleolimnology demonstrate that past sockeye salmon abundances and nursery system ecology can be reconstructed from lake sediments. This thesis focuses on employing these techniques to establish the forcing mechanisms underlying salmon population and ecosystem dynamics, and determine the effects and interactions of fisheries management. I provided the first reconstruction for a southern North American stock, which demonstrated the influences of both conspicuous (e.g. commercial fishery, main-stem damming) and uncertain human impacts (e.g. local damming) on endangered salmon declines. By reconstructing ecological variability at multiple trophic levels, I established that rehabilitative management (e.g. fish stocking) may have permanently altered nursery lake rearing capacity, a change potentially reinforced by recent atmospheric changes. This work highlights significant impediments to ongoing recovery efforts. I extended my analysis of salmon management by exploring the interactive impacts of exotic salmon stocking on a remote northern lake. I demonstrated the utility of long-term data in pre-emptively understanding the complex impacts of stocking by documenting the long-term trajectories in limnological conditions. Integrating modeling, limnological and paleolimnological analyses, I determined that climate change and salmon introductions compound to alter chemical, physical and biological lake variables, ultimately altering ecosystem structure and functioning. Finally I reconstructed salmon abundances over the past six millennia, the longest record and the first Canadian example to date, demonstrating salmon production is cyclical and far more variable than observed in the monitoring record. My analyses established that North Pacific salmon production is forced by ocean-atmospheric teleconnections ultimately linked to climatic variability in the tropical Pacific. Further analyses provided the first evidence for a possible solar forcing of Holocene salmon production on both orbital and higher frequency time scales. Cumulatively this research improves our understanding of the processes underlying variability in Pacific salmon and their natal ecosystems, important to ecologically-informed future management.