[env-trinity] New research is rewriting the history of Klamath-Trinity Chinook Salmon ‘Run time gene’ upends historical narrative of spring vs fall runs
tstokely at att.net
Wed Jan 23 08:05:30 PST 2019
New research is rewriting the history of Klamath-Trinity Chinook Salmon
‘Run time gene’ upends historical narrative of spring vs fall runs
Spring-run Chinook salmon swim in the south fork gorge of the Salmon River in this 2009 photo. (Mike Bravo– contributed)By PHILIP SANTOS | psantos at times-standard.com | PUBLISHED: January 22, 2019 at 9:40 pm | UPDATED: January 22, 2019 at 9:41 pm
Recent research has identified a genetic variation in Klamath-Trinity spring-run Chinook salmon which is upending prevailing scientific narratives about the fish.
Scientists are calling it the “run time gene,” as it appears to be the factor which controls whether the salmon will migrate in the spring, or fall. The research, spearheaded by Daniel Prince and Michael Miller of UC Davis, is being utilized by the Karuk Tribe and the Salmon River Restoration Council in a renewed effort to list the Spring Chinook Salmon under the state’s Endangered Species Act. Craig Tucker, a natural resources consultant for the Karuk Tribe, said the finding may positively impact the chances for success.
Spring Chinook migrate early in the year, meaning they require habitats with cold water to spend the summer layover period until spawning season in the fall. This has made them particularly vulnerable to the dams on the Klamath River, which have severely reduced suitable areas for the Spring Chinook. There are only two main areas where Spring Chinook can be found, Tucker said.
“Spring Chinook used to number in the hundreds of thousands every year,” he said. “Today, it’s in the hundreds of fish — we actually count them by hand.”
Despite dwindling numbers, previous attempts to list the Spring Chinook under the state’s ESA have been denied in part due to the genetic similarities of fall and spring Chinook.
“Miller’s work is rewriting what we know about evolutionary history of salmon,” Tucker said. “The prevailing view was that a subset of fall run salmon formed the spring run trait, which suggested that if you killed the spring run salmon, they would eventually reproduce from the fall run.”
In essence, the fall run of Chinook salmon were viewed as a fallback if the spring run population were to disappear because it was believed that Spring Chinook evolved from Fall Chinook in every river, said Tasha Thompson, one of the researchers involved in the findings.
“The divergence is obviously ancient,” Thompson said. “Finding the spring run gene arose from a single evolutionary event means that if (Spring Chinook) are lost, we can’t expect them to just evolve (from the fall run Chinook).”
The idea that the Spring Chinook is distinctly different from its fall run counterpart may be catching on in the world of western science, but it’s nothing new to the Karuk Tribe. In a recent article published by Science Magazine, Leaf Hillman, who is described as “a ceremonial leader of California’s Karuk Tribe,” said the recent revelation has long been common knowledge.
“This is what we’ve always known,” he said, “that the Spring Chinook is not the same animal as the fall Chinook.”
Karuna Greenberg, restoration director at the Salmon River Restoration Council, said previous management efforts have failed to benefit Spring Chinook, stating that the danger of permanent loss of the Spring Chinook is a real threat.
“There are lots of reasons why Spring Chinook need to get the protection, and funding (for restoration work) that listing would allow,” she said. “I’m really happy to be a part of this … SRRC was really formed around Spring Chinook.”
Various organizations are urging the public to submit written comments to the California Fish and Game Commission by 5 p.m. on Jan. 24 by mail or email at fgc at fgc.ca.gov. The California Fish and Game Commission will then be holding a hearing on Feb. 6 in Sacramento to discuss the petition.
“It’s critical to act now and save this important fish,” Greenburg said. “We’re trying to do everything we can.”
Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.
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