U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Conservation Biology Volume 21, No. 4, 1009–1020; DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2007.00693.x


Widespread population extirpations and the consequent loss of ecological, genetic, and life-history diversity can lead to extinction of evolutionarily significant units (ESUs) and species. We attempted to systematically enumerate extinct Pacific salmon populations and characterize lost ecological, life history, and genetic diversity types among six species of Pacific salmon (Chinook [Oncorhynchus tshawytscha], sockeye [O. nerka], coho [O. kisutch], chum [O. keta], and pink salmon [O. gorbuscha] and steelhead trout [O. mykiss]) from the western contiguous United States. We estimated that, collectively, 29% of nearly 1400 historical populations of these six species have been lost from the Pacific Northwest and California since Euro-American contact. Across all species there was a highly significant difference in the proportion of population extinctions between coastal (0.14 extinct) and interior (0.55 extinct) regions. Sockeye salmon (which typically rely on lacustrine habitats for rearing) and stream-maturing Chinook salmon (which stay in freshwater for many months prior to spawning) had significantly higher proportional population losses than other species and maturation types. Aggregate losses of major ecological, life-history, and genetic biodiversity components across all species were estimated at 33%, 15%, and 27%, respectively. Collectively, we believe these population extirpations represent a loss of between 16% and 30% of all historical ESUs in the study area. On the other hand, over two-thirds of historical Pacific salmon populations in this area persist, and considerable diversity remains at all scales. Because over one-third of the remaining populations belong to threatened or endangered species listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, it is apparent that a critical juncture has been reached in efforts to preserve what remains of Pacific salmon diversity. It is also evident that persistence of existing, and evolution of future, diversity will depend on the ability of Pacific salmon to adapt to anthropogenically altered habitats.