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On signals of phase transitions in salmon population dynamics.

Abstract

Critical slowing down (CSD) reflects the decline in resilience of equilibria near a bifurcation and may reveal early warning signals (EWS) of ecological phase transitions. We studied CSD in the recruitment dynamics of 120 stocks of three Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) species in relation to critical transitions in fishery models. Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) exhibited increased variability and autocorrelation in populations that had a growth parameter, r, close to zero, consistent with EWS of extinction. However, models and data for sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) indicate that portfolio effects from heterogeneity in age-at-maturity may obscure EWS. Chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) show intermediate results. The data do not reveal EWS of Ricker-type bifurcations that cause oscillations and chaos at high r. These results not only provide empirical support for CSD in some ecological systems, but also indicate that portfolio effects of age structure may conceal EWS of some critical transitions.

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