Alaska Fish Adjust to Climate Change by Following Spawning Salmon

First Posted: Dec 22, 2014 08:36 AM EST

Fish in Alaska may be adjusting to climate change. Scientists have found that Dolly Varden, a species of char, can keep feasting on a preferred food source-salmon eggs-even as temperatures rise and the climate continues to shift.

As the world's climate changes, species are adapting in various ways. Birds are changing the timing of their migration, and other species are shifting into new habitats. The resiliency of species to climate change, in fact, may very well depend on how well they adapt to climate-driven changes in their food and habitat.

In this case, the Dolly Varden seems to be able to successfully shift as the climate changes. Instead of taking its migration cues from environmental variables, the species instead directly takes its cues off the presence of salmon.

"Despite warming temperatures and shifting salmon migrations, Dolly Varden do a great job of following their food," said Chris Sergeant, lead author of the new study, in a news release. "Species that can handle a high degree of variability are the ones that should be most resilient to further changes associated with climate."

Dolly Varden rely on salmon eggs to survive, and they gorge themselves during the summer. Eggs from any single species of salmon may be available only during a narrow spawning window of two to six weeks, which means Dolly Varden need to follow salmon migrations closely.

Salmon have actually started migrating to their spawning grounds earlier. Rather than falling out of sync with salmon, though, the Dolly Varden have also adjusted their annual migrations to stick with the salmon. This, in particular, reveals that these fish are able to adapt to changing conditions.

The findings are published in the journal Freshwater Biology.

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