Restoration of Atlantic Salmon and Their Ecosystem Services to Lake Champlain by Restoring Their River Imprinting

EPA Grant Number: FP917514
Title: Restoration of Atlantic Salmon and Their Ecosystem Services to Lake Champlain by Restoring Their River Imprinting
Investigators: Welker, Marcus Hurt
Institution: Dartmouth College
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: September 1, 2012 through August 31, 2015
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Ecology


The research goal is to improve the understanding of salmon imprinting, homing and hatchery practices to promote environmentally, socially and economically beneficial salmon restoration. This research project will test two hypotheses: (1) amino acid profiles (concentrations and compositions) are different in the lake, rivers and hatcheries across key locations and times; and (2) juvenile Atlantic salmon imprint to the amino acid profile they experience during their parr-smolt transition (PST) and show preference as adults to that specific profile.


To explore differences in the amino acid composition and concentrations of river, lake and hatchery waters, the study will sample during two key periods, juvenile imprinting and adult homing, and in locations relevant to each of these important processes. The water samples will be analyzed using HPLC in collaboration with Dr. Hiroshi Ueda’s laboratory at Hokkaido University in Japan. To test if Atlantic salmon use amino acids as cues to finding their home streams, juveniles undergoing the PST will be exposed to a cocktail of five amino acids, reared to adulthood, and then their behavioral preference for the amino acid cocktail will be tested in a two-choice Y-maze.

Expected Results:

It is expected that each river and hatchery will have a distinct amino acid profile. Also, it is predicted that amino acid concentrations will be highest in the hatcheries, lowest in the lake and at intermediate levels in the rivers. If the hatcheries have a different amino acid profile than the rivers, juvenile Atlantic salmon undergoing the PST in the hatchery may be inappropriately imprinting to the hatchery waters instead of to the release-river. Fish reared in captivity and imprinted to the amino acid cocktail during the PST are predicted to show a preference for the amino acid cocktail as adults. Additionally, it is anticipated that fish exposed for just 2 weeks to the amino acid cocktail will respond similarly to those exposed for 10 weeks. These results will inform Lake Champlain aquatic ecosystem managers regarding if and how they can modify hatchery rearing waters and the timing of river outplanting to correctly imprint Atlantic salmon.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection
Restoring river-runs of Atlantic salmon would provide all four classes of ecosystem services to the watershed (supporting, provisioning, regulating and cultural), simultaneously strengthening the environmental, social and economic pillars of sustainability.

Supplemental Keywords:

olfactory imprinting, amino acids, ecosystem services

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2013
  • 2014
  • Final