U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Ecology, 85(3), 2004, pp. 795–806


Understanding relationships between the size of individuals and their subsequent survival can not only provide insights into mechanisms of mortality, but can also identify traits to measure for monitoring at-risk populations. We analyzed a data set of more than 54 000 juvenile chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) from 15 populations over five years. The juveniles were tagged during the summer in their freshwater rearing habitats and then recaptured at downstream sites the following spring after an extended rearing and overwintering period. We measured the length and weight of fish at tagging and computed a ‘‘condition index’’ that determined how fat or thin a fish was relative to others. Among populations, mean length and mean condition index were poor predictors of survival, but we did detect year and site effects. Within populations, survival was strongly related to the relative length of individuals but not to relative condition index. Our results are consistent with length-related mechanisms of mortality mediated by hierarchical behavior, and thus merely measuring changes in mean values of morphological traits in populations of juveniles may provide little insight into expected changes in population viability. Expanding upon these results, we predicted a nearly 60% increase in selection for juvenile fish length when we extended our observation period through adulthood. Thus, monitoring populations through only a portion of their life history may present an incomplete picture of their survival variability.