A noninvasive biopsy protocol was used to sample plasma and gill tissue in individual sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) during the critical life stage associated with spawning-arrival at a spawning channel through senescence to death several days later. Our main objective was to characterize the physiological changes associated with rapid senescence in terms of the physiological stress/cortisol hypersecretion model and the energy exhaustion model. Salmon lived an average of 5 d in the spawning channel, during which time there were three major physiological trends that were independent of sexual status: a large increase in plasma indicators of stress and exercise (i.e., lactate and cortisol), a decrease in the major plasma ions (i.e., Cl(-) and Na(+)) and osmolality, and a decrease in gross somatic energy reserves. Contrary to a generalized stress response, plasma glucose decreased in approximately 2/3 of the fish after arrival, as opposed to increasing. Furthermore, plasma cortisol levels at spawning-ground arrival were not correlated with the degree of ionoregulatory changes during rapid senescence. One mechanism of mortality in some fish may involve the exhaustion of energy reserves, resulting in the inability to mobilize plasma glucose. Sex had a significant modulating effect on the degree of physiological change. Females exhibited a greater magnitude of change for gross somatic energy, osmolality, and plasma concentrations of Cl(-), Na(+), cortisol, testosterone, 11-ketotestosterone, 17,20 beta-progesterone, and estradiol. The activity level of an individual on the spawning grounds appeared to influence the degree of some physiological changes during senescence. For example, males that received a greater frequency of attacks exhibited larger net decreases in plasma 11-ketotestosterone while on the spawning grounds. These results suggest that rapid senescence on spawning grounds is influenced by multiple physiological processes and perhaps behavior. This study provides some of the first data to look at sex differences in senescence in Pacific salmon.
2010. Vol. 83, no 4, 663-676 p.