Pacific salmon (genus Oncorhynchus) exhibit an interesting and uncommon life-history pattern that combines semelparity, anadromy, and navigation (homing). During smoltification, young salmon imprint on the chemical composition of their natal stream water (the home-stream olfactory bouquet or “HSOB”); they then migrate to the ocean where they spend a few years feeding prior to migrating back to their natal freshwater stream to spawn. Upstream migration is guided by the amazing ability to discriminate between the chemical compositions of different stream waters and thus identify and travel to their home-stream. Pacific salmon demonstrate marked somatic and neural degeneration changes during home-stream migration and at the spawning grounds. The appearance of these pathologies is correlated with a marked elevation in plasma cortisol levels. While the mechanisms of salmonid homing are not completely understood, it is known that adult salmon continuously utilize two of their primary sensory systems, olfaction and vision, during homing. Olfaction is the primary sensory system involved in freshwater homing and “HSOB” recognition, and will be emphasized here. Previously, we proposed that the increase in plasma cortisol during Pacific salmon home-stream migration is adaptive because it enhances the salmon's ability to recall the imprinted memory of the “HSOB” (Carruth, 1998; Carruth et al., 2000b). Elevated plasma concentrations of cortisol could prime the hippocampus or other olfactory regions of the brain to recall this memory and, therefore, aid in directing the fish to their natal stream. Thus, specific responses of salmon to stressors could enhance reproductive success.
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Vol. 42 • No. 3