Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 102, Issue 1, pp 95–104 | Cite as

Otolith microchemistry reveals partial migration and life history variation in a facultatively anadromous, iteroparous salmonid, bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus)

  • Catherine S. AustinEmail author
  • Morgan H. Bond
  • Joseph M. Smith
  • Erin D. Lowery
  • Thomas P. Quinn


Migration of fishes between habitats influences population dynamics and ecological interactions. Some “partially migratory” populations include both migratory and non-migratory individuals, adding complexity to these dynamics. For partially migratory fishes with diadromous life histories, freshwater and marine habitats can differ greatly in availability of prey and physical conditions conducive to growth, predation risk, and exposure to fisheries and to contaminants. Therefore, understanding patterns of migratory behavior can inform population biology and conservation. Using otolith microchemistry, we describe observations of partial anadromy in a threatened, iteroparous salmonid species, bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus), in the Skagit River basin of Washington State, USA. We found that 59% of the fish sampled (> 338 mm fork length) in the river had not been to marine water, despite easy access. The other 41% had migrated to salt water, typically every year beginning at age 2 or 3. We also observed overwintering in marine waters by some individuals, and extended time in fresh water between otherwise annual migrations to marine waters in others. Additionally, there was no obligatory relationship between anadromy in mothers and their offspring. The facultative nature of migration in this species, and the lack of tight connection between maternal and offspring life history patterns are consistent with studies of other Salvelinus species but contrast with the more rigid controls on migration in semelparous salmonids.


Partial migration Partial anadromy Salmonids Char Bull trout Otoliths LA-ICP-MS 



We thank Andrew Fowler, Jacob Castle, Shawn Turnbull, Steve Damm, Sandie O’Neill, Jay Davis, Jeffery Chan, and Maureen Small, for otolith samples and data assistance. Katherine Wold and Zachary Houghtaling prepared samples for analysis. Microchemical analysis was performed under the guidance of Andy Ungerer and Brad Pitcher (Oregon State University W. M. Keck Collaboratory for Plasma Spectrometry) and Alex Gagnon and Tamas Ugrai (University of Washington). Martini Arostegui helped improve the manuscript. This work was generously supported by Seattle City Light, the Richard and Lois Worthington Endowment, and the International Women’s Fishing Association.

Supplementary material

10641_2019_848_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (56 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 56 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Aquatic and Fishery SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.NOAA – National Marine Fisheries ServiceNorthwest Fisheries Science CenterSeattleUSA
  3. 3.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries ServiceFish Ecology DivisionOregonUSA
  4. 4.Seattle City LightSeattleUSA

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