Some aspects of the comparative ecology of fishes associated with juvenile sockeye salmon, Oncorhynchus nerka (Walbaum), in the lakes of the Naknek river system, Alaska Public Deposited

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  • A study of the distribution, relative abundance and diet of fishes sympatric with juvenile sockeye salmon, Oncorhynchus nerka (Walbaum), within the freshwater nursery areas of the Naknek River system was undertaken from 1961 to 1963. The study was part of an extensive investigation to determine what factors in the freshwater environment were limiting the size of the populations of sockeye salmon returning to the rivers of Bristol Bay, Alaska. The speties found associated with juvenile salmon in the limnetic zones of the Naknek system were the pond smelt, Hypomesus olidus (Pallas); the least cisco, Coregonus sardinella Valenciennes; the threespine stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus Linnaeus; and the ninespine stickleback, Pungitius pungitius (Linnaeus). Life history information was collected for these sympatric species. Tow nets were used to capture samples of fish from the limnetic portions of the nursery areas. Some samples were collected by beach seines, lake traps and otter trawls. Plankton samples were collected and compared to the diets of the limnetic fishes. Although some confusion has existed in the literature, I concluded that pond smelt of the Naknek system belong to Hypomesus olidus (Pallas). The populations of smelt were comprised of six age-groups in the late summer, but most specimens belonged to three age-groups. Most members of the species spawn in the spring of the fourth year of life. The estimated fecundity ranged from 900 to 4,300 eggs per female. Seven age-groups of least ciscoes were present in the populations of the Naknek system. The species in the Naknek system probably spawned for the first time in the fall of their fourth year. The estimated fecundity of two specimens was 4,006 and 14,380 eggs. Populations of three spine stickleback were comprised of three age-groups of fish. I was unable to assign ages to ninespine stickleback. Estimates of the fecundity of the species ranged from 116 to 456 eggs per female. All species studied were distributed throughout the Naknek system. The relative abundance of the fishes studied was variable between and within nursery areas and from year to year. The population densities of pond smelt and threespine stickleback were larger in the surface waters compared to the deep waters. The relative abundance of sockeye fry, yearlings and ninespine stickleback was greater in the surface stratum rather than the deep stratum in most nursery areas. The five main food items utilized by these limnetic species were cladocerans (Bosmina sp. and Daphnia sp.); copepods (cyclopoid copepods and Diaptomus sp.); and Dipteran insects. Analysis of the similarity of diets indicated that the diets of sockeye fry and pond smelt were more similar than were the diets of sockeye fry or yearlings and any other sympatric species. The diet of sockeye fry was more similar to that of either species of stickleback than was the diet of sockeye yearlings. An analysis of the food of various sizes of each species of fish indicated the diets of three age-groups of smelt were more similar than the diets of various age-groups of any other fish. The food composition of three age-groups of ciscoes and two size groups of both species of stickleback showed a strong positive correlation. The diets of sockeye fry and yearlings showed the weakest positive correlation of the species studied. All species of fish studied selectively fed on one or more components of the zooplankton. Daphnia sp. and cyclopoid copepods were strongly selected in Lake Coville. Cyclopoids were selected in South Bay. Bosmina sp. was selected from the waters of West End. In Lake Coville, the greatest potential competition for food probably existed between the large populations of pond smelt and sockeye fry. In the West End nursery area, potential competition between juvenile salmon and both species of stickleback may not be severe, depending on the age composition of the salmon population present in the nursery area. The possibility exists that the relatively low numbers of adult sockeye salmon returning to the comparatively rich lakes of the Naknek River system is due to the presence of large populations of sympatric species of fish. Each of these sympatric species feed on the same general types of food organisms as do the juvenile salmon and may affect the numbers of young salmon that leave the lake, and subsequently return from the ocean.
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