Understanding migration success in Atlantic Salmon

Many diverse species have a migratory component in their life cycle, and during migration, they are exposed to a particular suite of selection pressures. Migration is typically challenging, and mortality can be high, so understanding the likelihood of success for particular individuals can help conservation scientists predict what the evolutionary response of a population might be to these challenges. Advances in telemetry (where individuals are tagged and tracked), mean that biologists can now combine behaviour and genomic data to better understand this, and this is particularly important where anthropogenic barriers to migration affect populations, such as in freshwater river systems.

Our project will combine telemetry and genomics data to study this question in UK populations of Atlantic Salmon, an iconic and key-stone migratory species which has suffered severe population declines throughout Europe over the last 70 years. It will also allow us to assess whether parallel responses evolve independently using the same genetic pathway, or whether there are multiple routes to solving the same evolutionary problems, which will provide a powerful insight into the ability of species to adapt to environmental change.

A silvery juvenile salmon
Atlantic salmon parr before smoltification, before seaward migration. Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

This interdisciplinary project will use the synergy between two research groups at the University of Hull – HIFI (Hull International Fisheries Institute) and EvoHull (Evolutionary and Environmental Genomics group) and study the parallel evolutionary response to anthropogenic selection. We work in close partnership with the Environment Agency, Atlantic Salmon Trust and SCENE (Scottish Centre for Ecology and the Natural Environment) in freshwater rivers on tracking the movement and migration of Atlantic salmon. The collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the project means that the student will become experienced in a wide range of skills, from field and lab work to bioinformatics.