Contemporary ocean warming and freshwater conditions contribute to delay the completion of maturation in Atlantic salmon
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The completion of maturation in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) depends on environmental conditions that affect both feeding opportunities and growth, which would provide sufficient lipid stores for reproduction. However, if the level of energy reserves of a given fish is below a certain genetic threshold at a critical decision time further gonadal development is arrested and fully maturation postponed. This individual development pattern suggests that the proportion of fish maturing at a given sea age could vary from year to year according to the feeding opportunities in the oceanic migratory habitat, and the growth rate during freshwater residence that might be associated with growth at sea. In this study we show that sea age at maturity of adults caught in multiple Norwegian rivers has increased with increasing sea surface temperature (SST) experienced by the fish in autumn months during their first year at sea. Furthermore, freshwater conditions measured by river discharge during summer months one year ahead of seaward migration is positively related with increasing sea age at maturity. This result is discussed within the broad changes occurring in the North-east Atlantic pelagic food web mostly related with the current ocean warming, and river conditions influencing growth rates.