Karl Filipsson, Eva Bergman, Larry Greenberg, Martin Österling, Johan Watz and Ann Erlandsson recently published the paper “Temperature and predator-mediated regulation of plasma cortisol and brain gene expression in juvenile brown trout (Salmo trutta)” in the journal Frontiers in Zoology.

In this study, we tested how temperature and the presence of a cold-water adapted predatory fish (burbot, Lota lota) affected primary stress responses (i.e. cortisol and mRNA levels of stress-related genes) in juvenile brown trout (Salmo trutta). We found that trout had elevated cortisol levels in the presence of burbot, and that stress-related gene expressions varied a lot with temperature. In addition, we found that the predator-induced effects on mRNA levels were temperature dependent for some of the genes. This, together with the directly temperature-mediated effects that we observed in our study, suggest that warming winters can have major impact on primary stress responses in overwintering salmonids, for instance in encounters with predators.

In the abstract of the paper, we wrote that:

“Temperature affects many aspects of performance in poikilotherms, including how prey respond when encountering predators. Studies of anti-predator responses in fish mainly have focused on behaviour, whereas physiological responses regulated through the hypothalamic-pituitary-interrenal axis have received little attention. We examined plasma cortisol and mRNA levels of stress-related genes in juvenile brown trout (Salmo trutta) at 3 and 8 °C in the presence and absence of a piscivorous fish (burbot, Lota lota).

One of the experimental aquaria used for the study.

A redundancy analysis revealed that both water temperature and the presence of the predator explained a significant amount of the observed variation in cortisol and mRNA levels (11.4 and 2.8%, respectively). Trout had higher cortisol levels in the presence than in the absence of the predator. Analyses of individual gene expressions revealed that trout had significantly higher mRNA levels for 11 of the 16 examined genes at 3 than at 8 °C, and for one gene (retinol-binding protein 1), mRNA levels were higher in the presence than in the absence of the predator. Moreover, we found interaction effects between temperature and predator presence for two genes that code for serotonin and glucocorticoid receptors.

We extracted mRNA from the forebrain (telencephalon) of the trout. The picture shows a trout brain after dissection, where the telencephalon is the two upper lobes.

Our results suggest that piscivorous fish elicit primary stress responses in juvenile salmonids and that some of these responses may be temperature dependent. In addition, this study emphasizes the strong temperature dependence of primary stress responses in poikilotherms, with possible implications for a warming climate.”

You can read the paper for free on the journal website, as the paper is published open access through funding provided by Karlstad University.

On Thursday 26 March, Kristine Lund Bjørnås, NRRV PhD-student, will defend her licentiate thesis “Modeling Atlantic salmon and brown trout responses to river habitat alteration”. The defense starts at 10:00. Asbjørn Vøllestad, Professor at the University of Oslo, is the opponent for Kristine’s defense.

Kristine’s defense will be held as an online meeting on Zoom (a video communication system commonly used by universities). You should be able to follow Kristine’s defense using this link:


The defense will also be streamed live on a bigscreen in lecture hall 1B309 (Sjöströmsalen) at Karlstad University, and everyone is welcome to watch the defense from the lecture hall. Please note that Kristine and the opponent will not be in the lecture hall.

On Friday 13 March, Kalle Filipsson, NRRV PhD-student, will defend his (my) licentiate thesis. The thesis has the title ”From behaviour to genes: anti-predator responses of brown trout (Salmo trutta) under winter conditions”. The defense will be held in room 1B309 (Sjöströmsalen) at Karlstad University, and starts at 10:00. Stefán Óli Steingrímsson, Professor at Hólar University, Iceland, is the opponent. The defense is open for everyone who wishes to attend.

Kalle’s licentiate thesis, nailed to one of the “theses trees” at the Biology Department at Karlstad University.
Three juvenile brown trout (Salmo trutta), doing trout stuff in a stream flume at Karlstad University.

On Tuesday 10 March, Kristine Lund Bjørnås, PhD student at Karlstad University, will give a seminar entitled “Modeling Atlantic salmon and brown trout responses to river habitat alteration”. The seminar starts at 13.15 in room 5F416, everyone who wants to is welcome to attend the seminar.

This seminar is a practice seminar in preparation for Kristine’s licentiate defense, which will be held Thursday 26 March at 10:00. More information about the licentiate seminar will be provided closer to the defense.

Kristine Lund Bjørnås and Niclas Carlsson taking point measurements of the physical habitat in Gullspångsforsen.

On Tuesday 25 February, Kalle Filipsson, RivEM PhD student, will give a seminar entitled ”From behaviour to genes: anti-predator responses of brown trout under winter conditions”. The seminar starts at 13.15 in room 5F416, everyone who wants to is welcome to attend the seminar.

This seminar is a practice seminar in preparation for Kalle’s (my) licentiate defense, which will be held Friday 13 March at 10:00. More information about the licentiate seminar will be provided closer to the defense.

Juvenile brown trout (Salmo trutta). Photo: Karl Filipsson
A burbot (Lota lota) in a stream flume at Karlstad University. Photo: Karl Filipsson

Johan Watz, Assistant Professor at Karlstad University, recently published two papers on juvenile salmonid ecology:


Temperature‐dependent competition between juvenile salmonids in small streams

By Johan Watz, Yasuhiko Otsuki, Kenta Nagatsuka, Koh Hasegawa & Itsuro Koizumi, published in the journal Freshwater Biology.

In the abstract, the authors write:

Johan Watz, doing field work during his PostDoc in Japan.

1) Biotic interactions affect species distributions, and environmental factors that influence these interactions can play a key role when range shifts in response to environmental change are modelled.

2) In a field experiment using enclosures, we studied the effects of the thermal habitat on intra‐ versus inter‐specific competition of juvenile Dolly Varden Salvelinus malma and white‐spotted charr Salvelinus leucomaenis, as measured by differences in specific growth rates during summer in allopatric and sympatric treatments. Previous laboratory experiments have shown mixed results regarding the importance of temperature‐dependent competitive abilities as a main driver for spatial segregation in stream fishes, and no study so far has confirmed its existence in natural streams.

3) Under natural conditions in areas where the two species occur in sympatry, Dolly Varden dominate spring‐fed tributaries (cold, stable thermal regime), whereas both species often coexist in non‐spring‐fed tributaries (warm, unstable thermal regime). Enclosures (charr density = 6 per m2) were placed in non‐spring‐fed (10–14°C) and spring‐fed (7–8°C) tributaries.

A forest stream on Hokkaido, northern Japan.

4) In enclosures placed in non‐spring‐fed tributaries, Dolly Varden grew 0.81% per day in allopatry and had negative growth (−0.33% per day) in sympatry, whereas growth rates were similar in allopatry and sympatry in spring‐fed tributaries (0.68 and 0.58% per day). White‐spotted charr grew better in sympatry than in allopatry in both thermal habitats. In non‐spring‐fed tributaries, they grew 0.17 and 0.79% per day and in spring‐fed tributaries 0.46 and 0.75% per day in allopatry and sympatry, respectively.

5) The negative effect of inter‐specific competition from white‐spotted charr on Dolly Varden thus depended on the thermal habitat. However, there was no strong evidence of a temperature‐dependent effect of intra‐ and inter‐specific competition on white‐spotted charr growth.

6) Multiple factors may shape species distribution patterns, and we show that temperature may mediate competitive outcomes and thus coexistence in stream fish. These effects of temperature will be important to incorporate into mechanistic and dynamic species distribution models.


Read more about the Koizumi lab at Hokkaido University (where Johan did his PostDoc) on their website!


Structural complexity in the hatchery rearing environment affects activity, resting metabolic rate and post‐release behaviour in brown trout Salmo trutta

By Johan Watz, published in the Journal of Fish Biology

In the abstract, Johan writes:

The effects of structural enrichment in the hatchery rearing environment of brown trout Salmo trutta was linked to post‐release performance. Enrichment resulted in reduced swimming activity scored in an open field test and reduced movement in a natural river after release. Also, enrichment increased resting metabolic rates, which correlated positively with overwinter growth.


Contact the author to access the papers.


The left photographs show Dolly Varden (a) and white‐spotted charr (b). The right photographs show enclosures in a non‐spring‐fed (c) and a spring‐fed (d) tributary.


The structurally enriched (left) and barren (right) tanks used in the study on how structural complexity in the hatchery environment affects juvenile brown trout.


River Rottnan in winter.

Åsa Enefalk, Ari Huusko, Pauliina Louhi and Eva Bergman recently published the paper “Fine stream wood decreases growth of juvenile brown trout (Salmo trutta L.)” in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes. In the abstract, the authors write:

A juvenile brown trout (Salmo trutta) hiding in fine stream wood.

“In this study, the growth rate, gut fullness, diet composition and spatial distribution of brown trout was compared between artificial channels with and without fine wood (FW). Access to FW resulted in significantly lower brown trout growth rates over the study period from late summer to early winter as water temperatures declined from 17 °C to 1 °C. Access to FW resulted in minor differences in occurrence of the most common taxa found in brown trout diets, except for chironomid larvae which were found in c. 60% of the brown trout guts from control treatments but in only 30% of the guts from FW treatments in early winter. Diet consisted primarily of case-bearing and free-living Trichoptera larvae, Asellus, chironomid and Ephemeroptera larvae. Brown trout gut fullness was not significantly affected by access to FW bundles. Brown trout aggregated among FW but were more evenly distributed in channels lacking it. Our results suggest that juvenile brown trout use FW as a shelter at a wide range of water temperatures, and that this behaviour may result in reduced growth rates during their first fall and the onset of their first winter. We also show that prey availability and the composition of brown trout diet changes from late summer to early winter and that FW has a small but significant effect on brown trout diet composition.”

Read the paper here, or contact any of the authors.

Two papers in Animal Conservation

Posted by Karl Filipsson | Papers

Two papers from NRRV were recently published in the journal Animal Conservation. The first paper presents a field study on how sedimentation affects brown trout (Salmo trutta) fry emergence in relation to freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) recruitment. The second paper presents a combined field and laboratory study on passage solutions for upstream-migrating eels (Anguilla anguilla).


Sedimentation affects emergence rate of host fish fry in unionoid mussel streams

Martin Österling


In the abstract, the author writes:

Freshwater pearl mussel, Margaritifera margaritifera

“Free-living, sympatric sedentary life stages of hosts and parasites are often adapted to similar environmental conditions. When the environment where these life stages occur is disturbed, both species can decline, causing strong negative effects on the parasitic species. For the highly threatened unionoid mussels with their larval parasitic life stage on fish, habitat degradation may simultaneously affect the conditions for the sedentary host fish eggs and the juvenile mussels in the sediment. This study provides novel information on the effect of sedimentation on the emergence rate of yolk sac fry, and its relation to mussel recruitment in two drainage basins, and is exemplified by the brown trout Salmo trutta, host fish for the threatened freshwater pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera. The results imply that turbidity and sedimentation can reduce the survival of trout eggs and yolk sac fry emergence rate regardless of trout strain and drainage basin. The results further suggest that low yolk sac fry emergence rates reduce the potential for mussel infestation and recruitment. The results indicate a year round negative effect of sedimentation, having strong and combined direct and indirect effects on juvenile mussel recruitment. Conservation measures that reduce anthropogenic sediment transportation into streams are a key factor for the conservation of mussels and their host fish.”

Access the paper here, or contact the author.


Climbing the ladder: an evaluation of three different anguillid eel climbing substrata and placement of upstream passage solutions at migration barriers

Johan Watz, Anders Nilsson, Erik Degerman, Carl Tamario and Olle Calles


European eel, Anguilla anguilla. Photo: Jörgen Wiklund

In the abstract, the authors write:

“Conservation programmes for endangered, long-lived and migratory species often have to target multiple life stages. The bottlenecks associated with the survival of juvenile anguillid eels migrating into inland waters, the survival and growth of the freshwater life stage, as well as the recruitment and survival of silver eels, migrating back to the ocean to spawn, must be resolved. In this study, we focus on the efficiency of passage solutions for upstream-migrating juveniles. Such solutions can consist of inclined ramps lined with wetted climbing substrata. We evaluated different commonly used substrata in a controlled experiment, recorded eel behaviour at the entrance of the ramp with infrared videography and validated the experimental results at a hydropower dam, where we also investigated the effects of ramp placement on performance. In the experiment on eel substratum selection, 40% of the eels passed in lanes with studded substratum, whereas only 21 and 5% passed using open weave and bristle substrata respectively. Video analysis revealed that the studded substratum attracted more approaches and initiated climbs than the other substrata, but once a climb had been initiated, passage success rates did not differ between substrata. Eels using the studded substratum climbed 26% faster than those using the bristle substratum and almost four times as fast as those climbing in the open weave. The superior performance of the studded substratum was supported by data from the field validation. Moreover, ramps positioned by the bank with low water velocities caught the most eels, but proximity to the dam had no effect on performance. To strengthen the European eel population, more juveniles need to reach their freshwater feeding grounds. A critical step to achieve this increase is to equip upstream passage solutions with suitable substrata and to optimize ramp placement at migration obstacles.”

Access the paper here, or contact any of the authors.

As part of the Gullspång salmon and -trout monitoring program, a group of people from the management group, Gammelkroppa Lax and Jyväskylä University/Fortum perform redd surveys in the river every year in early December. The salmon and trout in the Gullspång River spawn fairly late in the season, first trout in October-early November and then salmon in November until around the beginning of December.

This year I was invited to assist in the redd surveys, which I of course said yes to! Any chance to learn more about the Gullspång salmon and -trout is valuable for the model I’m making. Plus, it’s nice to get out of the office, even when the temperature is close to zero. And it’s also very inspiring to meet other people who are studying the Gullspång salmonids.


Lilla Åråsforsen. With sunrise at around 8:30 and sundown at 15:30, we had to be efficient to cover the three areas (about 6.4 hectares) in the precious daylight hours the four days.


So, we started by the Årås bay (Åråsviken) on Tuesday, and slowly worked our way upstream. With layers upon layers (upon layers…etc.) under our waders, and thick, wadded rubber gloves we walked gracefully around in the three spawning areas – Lilla & Stora Åråsforsen and Gullspångsforsen- to look for anything that could be a fish-made structure in the gravel beds. Sometimes we had redds that looked like textbook examples of redds, other times they didn’t look like anything. To confirm or disprove that it was an active redd, we did some careful digging in the pit itself to see if it contained at least two live eggs. The females often do some test diggings before the “real deal”.

We marked confirmed redds with conspicuously colored stones so that they can be found again in the spring; their location was also mapped with a GPS. Initially, we started with Finnish marking stones, but to our slight surprise they ran out (see why further down). We therefore had to settle with slightly lighter Swedish stones the last few days. Sadly, Norway was not represented with any stones (but we’ll see next year).

We also took measurements of the dimensions of the redds, as well as the depth and velocities along the gradient between start of pit and end of tail. I quickly took the role of propeller lady, taking the flow velocity measurements with NRRV’s OTT meters. It was interesting to see how much higher the velocity generally was in the tail compared to in the pit.


Horseshoe-formed tail of a large redd in Lilla Åråsforsen rapids marked with a white-painted and numbered stone. The marking stones were bought from a local stone dealer in Finland and brought to Gullspång.


I’ve saved the best for the end: the reason why we kept running out of marking stones was that we counted a record number of redds this year! We found redds also where they usually are not found, in total around 190 of them! It’s a careful victory, because we don’t yet know how many of them are salmon respective trout redds. But it was a nice early Christmas present, and I’m glad I joined!

/Kristine Lund Björnås


Learn more:

Management report on the monitoring results on Gullspång salmon and –trout in 2017:



Salmon females design their redds in a sophisticated way to increase velocities and dissolved oxygen to the egg pockets as shown with a 3D fluid dynamic model:

Tonina, D. & Buffington, J.M. (2009). Doi:10.1139/F09-146

River Rottnan in winter

Johan Watz, Olle Calles, Niclas Carlsson, Teemu Collin, Ari Huusko, Jörgen Johnsson, Anders Nilsson, Johnny Norrgård and Daniel Nyqvist recently published the paper “Wood addition in the hatchery and river environments affects post-release performance of overwintering brown trout” in the journal Freshwater Biology.

In the abstract, the authors write:

“1. Habitat structural complexity affects the behaviour and physiology of individuals, and responses to the  environment can be immediate or influence performance later in life through delayed effects.

2. Here, we investigated how structural enrichment, both pre-release in the hatchery rearing environment and post-release in the wild, influenced winter growth and site fidelity of brown trout stocked into side channels of a regulated river.

3. Experiencing structural enrichment in the rearing environment during 3 months in autumn had no pre-release effect on growth, but a delayed positive effect after release during the subsequent winter. Moreover, trout recaptured in wood-treated sections of the side channels had grown more than trout recaptured in control sections. Wood enrichment in the side channels also increased overwinter site fidelity.

Johan Watz at the field site.

4. These results show that adding structure during a relatively short period may alter growth trajectories, and adding wood to side channels is a cost-effective method to enhance winter habitat carrying capacity for  juvenile salmonids in regulated rivers.”

Access the paper here.

Teemu Collin tracking trout at the field site.


Dead wood in a side channel of the river.


River Rottnan.