We tested the hypothesis that increased growth of salmon during early marine life contributed to greater survival and abundance of salmon following the 1976/1977 climate regime shift and that this, in turn, led to density-dependent reductions in growth during late marine stages. Annual measurements of Bristol Bay (Bering Sea) and Chignik (Gulf of Alaska) sockeye salmon scale growth from 1955 to 2002 were used as indices of body growth. During the first and second years at sea, growth of both stocks tended to be higher after the 1976-1977 climate shift, whereas growth during the third year and homeward migration was often below average. Multiple regression models indicated that return per spawner of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon and adult abundance of western and central Alaska sockeye salmon were positively correlated with growth during the first 2 years at sea and negatively correlated with growth during later life stages. After accounting for competition between Bristol Bay sockeye and Asian pink salmon, age-specific adult length of Bristol Bay salmon increased after the 1976-1977 regime shift, then decreased after the 1989 climate shift. Late marine growth and age-specific adult length of Bristol Bay salmon was exceptionally low after 1989, possibly reducing their reproductive potential. These findings support the hypothesis that greater marine growth during the first 2 years at sea contributed to greater salmon survival and abundance, which in turn led to density-dependent growth during later life stages when size-related mortality was likely lower. Our findings provide new evidence supporting the importance of bottom-up control in marine ecosystems and highlight the complex dynamics of species interactions that continually change as salmon grow and mature in the ocean. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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