Estimating the relative fitness of escaped farmed salmon offspring in the wild and modeling the consequences of invasion for wild populations

Emma V.A. Sylvester, Brendan F. Wringe, Steven J. Duffy, Lorraine C. Hamilton, Ian A. Fleming, Marco Castellani, Paul Bentzen, Ian R. Bradbury

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Throughout their native range, wild Atlantic salmon populations are threatened by hybridization and introgression with escapees from net-pen salmon aquaculture. Although domestic-wild hybrid offspring have shown reduced fitness in lab and field experiments, consequential impacts on population abundance and genetic integrity remain difficult to predict in the field, in part because the strength of selection against domestic offspring is often unknown and context-dependent. Here we follow a single large escape event of farmed Atlantic salmon in southern Newfoundland and monitor changes in the in-river proportions of hybrids and feral individuals over time using genetically-based hybrid identification. Over a three-year period following the escape, the overall proportion of wild parr increased consistently (total wild proportion of 71.6%, 75.1%, 87.5% each year, respectively), with subsequent declines in feral (genetically pure farmed individuals originating from escaped, farmed adults) and hybrid parr. We quantify the strength of selection against parr of aquaculture ancestry and explore the genetic and demographic consequences for populations in the region. Within-cohort changes in the relative proportions of feral and F1 parr suggest reduced relative survival compared to wild individuals over the first (0.15 and 0.81 for feral and F1, respectively), and second years of life (0.26, 0.83). These relative survivorship estimates were used to inform an individual-based salmon eco-genetic model to project changes in adult abundance and overall allele frequency across three invasion scenarios ranging from short-term to long-term invasion and three relative survival scenarios. Modeling results indicate that total population abundance and time to recovery were greatly affected by relative survivorship and predict significant declines in wild population abundance under continued large escape events and calculated survivorship. Overall this work demonstrates the importance of estimating the strength of selection against domestic offspring in the wild to predict the long-term impact of farmed salmon escape events on wild populations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Early online date4 Dec 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Dec 2018


  • Fish farming
  • Salmo salar
  • aquaculture impacts
  • introgression
  • relative fitness
  • population eco-genetic modelling
  • individual based modelling


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