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Foraging behaviour and perceived predation risk of juvenile chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in turbid waters Gregory, Robert S.


I investigated the effect of turbidity on the foraging behaviour of juvenile Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in the laboratory. Specifically, I examined a behavioural "tradeoff" between visual ability and "perceived" risk. I assessed visual ability by measuring the reaction distance of juvenile Chinook to planktonic Artemia prey. I found Chinook exhibited a log-linear decline in reaction distance with increasing turbidity. To determine the effects of turbidity and microhabitat on foraging rate, I conducted separate experiments for surface (Drosophila), planktonic (Artemia), and benthic (Tubifex) prey across a range of turbidity levels (0, 25, 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 mg•L⁻¹). Foraging rates were reduced at higher turbidity conditions for all three prey. However, for surface and benthic prey, foraging rates were also low in clear water; highest rates were attained at intermediate turbidity levels (50-200 mg•L⁻¹). The degree to which intermediate turbidities were associated with higher foraging rates was size-dependent. Smaller individuals (150-57 mm FL) exhibited relatively higher foraging rates in clear conditions than did larger individuals. However, planktonic foraging rates by juveniles were consistently high in clear water, regardless of fish size. In experiments manipulating light level independent of turbidity, I allowed salmon to forage under conditions which were either turbid, or clear but with light intensity correspondingly reduced. Foraging rates were similar between the two treatments for planktonic prey, but differed for benthic and surface prey. Generally, foraging rates exhibited by juvenile Chinook salmon could not be explained on the basis of visual ability alone. I suggest that young salmon also exhibited foraging behaviour consistent with their perception of risk to predation. In arena experiments, juvenile Chinook distributed themselves randomly in turbid conditions; in clear conditions they associated with the bottom. When bird and fish predator models were introduced the fish altered their spatial distribution, occupying deeper regions regardless of turbidity. However, their response in turbid conditions was less marked and lasted for a shorter time. Turbidity apparently mitigated the perceived risk of predation in juvenile Chinook. I developed a conceptual tradeoff model that predicted the general effect of turbidity on foraging behaviour. Assuming differences in either prey quality or perceived risk of predation in three microhabitats (surface, water column, bottom), the model resolved the apparent dissimilarities between planktonic and other foraging behaviours. Perceived risk of Chinook to predation was significantly different between surface and water column microhabitats. When exposed to a non-visual "fixed-risk" stimulus (sound), salmon apparently perceived less risk as turbidity increased. I conclude that in turbid waters juvenile salmon exhibit foraging behaviour in a manner consistent with a tradeoff between their visual ability and perceived risk.

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