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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Spawn Timing of Winter-Run Chinook Salmon in the Upper Sacramento River


Spawn timing in anadromous Pacific salmon may be especially sensitive to environmental cues such as river temperature and flow regimes. In this study, we explored correlations between peak spawn timing and water temperature in endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook Salmon. In recent drought years, rising water temperatures during egg incubation have negatively affected the winter-run Chinook Salmon population. This paper seeks to understand how winter-run spawn timing may be affected by temperatures during the staging period prior to spawning, and how water releases from Shasta Dam might affect these dynamics. We fit a proportional-odds logistic regression model to evaluate annual spawn timing as a function of average temperatures in April and May below Keswick Dam. While the start date of spawning remains relatively constant from year to year, the timing of peak spawning varies annually. Cool springtime temperatures trigger winter-run Chinook Salmon to spawn earlier, whereas warm springtime temperatures trigger fish to spawn later. Before dam construction, winter-run Chinook Salmon spawned in cool, spring-fed streams that are now inaccessible to migrating salmonids. In their natal spawning grounds, temperature-driven spawn timing would have primarily ensured sufficient time for egg maturation in cool years, while secondarily preventing egg and alevin mortality in warm years. In the current winter-run spawning grounds, the relationship between temperature and spawn timing may have important applications to management of Shasta Dam water releases, especially during conditions when thermal mortality can affect developing winter-run Chinook Salmon eggs.

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