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The role of behavior in the interaction of underyearling coho and steelhead (Oncorhynchus kisutch and Salmo gairdnerii) Hartman, Gordon Frederick

Abstract

Two similar salmonids, coho and steelhead, cohabit many coastal rivers of British Columbia. Field collections reveal that the distributions of underyearling coho and steelhead are similar along the length of these streams. However, the microhabitat distribution of the two species is different. In spring and summer, when population densities are high, coho occupy pools, trout occupy riffles. In autumn and winter, when numbers are lower, both species inhabit the pools. Nilsson (1956) stated that segregation (such as that shown by coho and trout in spring and summer) may be indicative of competition resulting from similar ecological demands. To test this hypothesis the distribution and behavior of coho and steelhead were compared in a stream aquarium at different seasons with gradients of light, cover, depth or depth/velocity and in experimental riffles and pools. Distributions, and preferences of the two species in the experimental environments were most similar in spring and summer, the seasons when segregation occurred in nature, and least similar in autumn and winter, the seasons when the two species occurred together in nature. Spring and summer segregation in the streams is probably the result of interaction which is produced by ecological similarities of the species and accentuated by dense populations and inherently high levels of aggressiveness. The species do not segregate in streams in winter because certain ecological demands are different, numbers are lower and inherent levels of aggressiveness are low. When the two species were together in the experimental riffle and pool environment, trout were aggressive and defended areas in riffles .but not in pools; coho were aggressive in pools but less inclined to defend space in the riffles. These differences in behavior probably account for the distribution of trout and coho in natural riffles and pools. The data support the basic contention of Nilsson (1956) and illustrate the role of behavior in segregation produced by competition for space.

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