Atlantic salmon is an economically and ecologically important fish species, whose survival is dependent on successful spawning in headwater rivers. Streamflow dynamics often have a strong control on spawning because fish require sufficiently high discharges to move upriver and enter spawning streams. However, these streamflow effects are modulated by biological factors such as the number and the timing of returning fish in relation to the annual spawning window in the fall/winter. In this paper, we develop and apply a novel probabilistic approach to quantify these interactions using a parsimonious outflux-influx model linking the number of female salmon emigrating (i.e., outflux) and returning (i.e., influx) to a spawning stream in Scotland. The model explicitly accounts for the interannual variability of the hydrologic regime and the hydrological connectivity of spawning streams to main rivers. Model results are evaluated against a detailed long-term (40 years) hydroecological data set that includes annual fluxes of salmon, allowing us to explicitly assess the role of discharge variability. The satisfactory model results show quantitatively that hydrologic variability contributes to the observed dynamics of salmon returns, with a good correlation between the positive (negative) peaks in the immigration data set and the exceedance (nonexceedance) probability of a threshold flow (0.3 m3/s). Importantly, model performance deteriorates when the interannual variability of flow regime is disregarded. The analysis suggests that flow thresholds and hydrological connectivity for spawning return represent a quantifiable and predictable feature of salmon rivers, which may be helpful in decision making where flow regimes are altered by water abstractions.
Data to support this study are provided by the Marine Scotland Science Freshwater Laboratory (MSS-FL) and are available for free download on line [Glover and Malcolm, 2015a, 2015b].