Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Western Fisheries Science News, January 2017 | Issue 5.1

February 13, 2017

Olfactory Cues Provide Insight into Lamprey Behavior and Physiology

Sea lamprey preparing a nest site in a Great Lakes tributary stream. Adult sea lamprey (and likely other species of lamprey) rely on odors released by juveniles (migratory cue) to direct them to appropriate spawning streams. Adults are later guided by odors of the opposite sex, including a male mating pheromone which attracts females and facilitates upstream movement, nest building, and spawning synchronization. (Photo credit: C. Krueger, Great Lakes Fishery Commission.)

Animals rely on a mosaic of complex information to find and evaluate mates. Pheromones, chemicals released by animals that trigger a social response when detected by the same species, are considered to be particularly important for species-recognition and for guiding decisions. While the role of pheromones in insects is fairly well-known, pheromones in vertebrates are less understood. In fish such as lamprey, pheromones likely assist adults in identifying suitable spawning grounds and in the detection of potential mates. One example, the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) are known to reside in streams as juveniles for several years, emigrate to the Laurentian Great Lakes or Atlantic Ocean to parasitize other fish, and return to streams for their single spawning season. Rather than homing to a natal stream, it appears that chemicals released by stream-resident larvae (migratory pheromone) guide adult sea lamprey to suitable habitat. In addition, chemicals released by males (mating pheromone) play a role in attracting and courting females. However, the complete chemical composition of this pheromone “cocktail” and how they elicit responses is not well understood. Additionally, it is not known if the response to pheromones will be similar across species—including the culturally important Pacific lamprey (Entosphenus tridentatus) in the Pacific Northwest. For managers of lamprey, knowing how a fish will be either attracted or repelled by certain odors, could be useful in guiding fish passage, controls, and conservation efforts.

In a recent article in the Journal of Experimental Biology, scientists from Michigan State University, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (New Zealand), Shanghai Ocean University (China), and USGS (Western Fisheries Research Center (WFRC) and Hammond Bay Biological Station) describe a phylogenetic comparison of male odors. The chemical profiles of odors released by sexually mature males from eleven species of lamprey, including Pacific lamprey, were evaluated. Additional comparisons using electro-olfactograms and behavioral tests for four species of lamprey from the Great Lakes showed varying responses by females of each species to specific male odors. In tests using a two-choice maze, sea lamprey were attracted to male odor from all species tested, but other species generally preferred only the odor of the same species. The study suggests that odors released by sexually mature males are partially shared among species and a common role of male-released mating pheromones in other lamprey species. Moreover, the pheromone components may have evolved through distinct evolutionary mechanisms and information on olfactory cues and behavior will be important tools for addressing the management and conservation of different species of lamprey that are imperiled, worldwide.

Scientists at the WFRC have been collaborating on lamprey research studies throughout the Pacific Northwest. Much like salmon, Pacific lampreys have declined over the last decades and are facing similar threats. One scientist, Mike Hayes— a fishery biologist and member of WFRC’s Ecology Section in Seattle— has been collaborating on lamprey studies throughout the Pacific Northwest, researching lamprey biology, identification, migration, and olfactory cues. Hayes published an article with colleagues in Northwest Science about the distribution of Pacific lamprey in watersheds of Puget Sound using smolt monitoring data.  He has extended his collaborations to work with scientists in the Great Lakes and although the goals are different (control rather than restore), many of the needs for scientific information and understanding of Pacific lamprey and sea lamprey are similar. Through these collaborations, Hayes hopes to gain insights into lamprey biology and potential conservation opportunities.

Newsletter Author - Rachel Reagan



USGS Scientist Presents Seminar at Oregon State University: On January 30, 2017, USGS research scientist Russell Perry gave a talk titled “Elvis has left the building: Quantifying the degree of geographic closure when estimating animal abundance with multiple pass removal sampling” at Oregon State University (OSU) in Corvallis, OR. The talk was part of the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife winter 2017 Monday morning meetings seminar series.

USGS Provides Presentation to Independent Review Panel Reviewing NMFS Biological Opinion on California WaterFix: California WaterFix is a major water project that proposes to divert water from the Northern Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta through tunnels under the Delta. Diverting water upstream of the Delta will reduce inflows, which may affect the survival of juvenile salmon migrating through the Delta. To help understand the potential effects of the proposed California WaterFix project, USGS scientists and collaborators performed a series of analyses and simulations to understand how operations of the North Delta Diversion might affect survival and migration routing of juvenile salmon through the Delta. These analyses were used in the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) draft biological opinion on WaterFix. On January 23, 2017, USGS research scientist Russell Perry provided a presentation of the analyses and findings to an Independent Review Panel in Sacramento, CA, reviewing the NMFS biological opinion on WaterFix.


Dam Research Paper Makes Top Ten Accessed in Journal in 2016: A paper titled “Status and trends of dam removal research in the United States” was in the top ten articles accessed in the journal WIREs Water in 2016. The paper was written by scientists from the U.S. Forest Service, the USGS, American Rivers, and NOAA who explored the status, trends, and characteristics of dam-removal research in the United States.

USGS Award Recognizes Excellence in Safety and Occupational Health: On January 24, 2017, while attending the Collateral Duty Safety Program Coordinator training conference, Joe Warren received an award for excellence from the USGS Safety and Occupational Health Program for his contributions in cleaning and organizing for a safer, work environment at the WFRC Columbia River Research Laboratory. He also received a letter of recognition from USGS Director, Suzette Kimball. 


New Article on Modeling Efforts to Evaluate Habitats of Threatened Yellow-billed Cuckoo Habitats: The western population of the yellow-billed cuckoo was recently listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Yellow-billed cuckoo conservation efforts require the identification of features and area requirements associated with high quality, riparian forest habitat at spatial scales that range from nest micro habitat to landscape, as well as lower-suitability areas that can be enhanced or restored. In a new article in Ecological Modelling, scientists from Northern Arizona University and USGS (Western Fisheries Research Center and Fort Collins Science Center) used aerial photos and satellite imagery, and a hierarchical spatial scale approach, to identify yellow-billed cuckoo breeding habitat along the Lower Colorado River and its tributaries. Scientists found that by using a dual-modelling approach with imagery provided a more complete picture of yellow-billed cuckoo habitat requirements and will be useful for management and conservation activities. For more information, contact Jim Hatten,, Cook, WA.

Johnson, M.J., J.R. Hatten, J.A. Holmes, and P.B Shafroth. 2017. Identifying western yellow-billed cuckoo breeding habitat with a dual modelling approach. Ecol. Model. 347: 50-62.

New Publication Describes a Study Design and Implementation Plan to Evaluate Chinook salmon Fry Survival in a Reservoir of the Willamette Valley, Oregon: The evaluation of juvenile salmon survival is one area of expertise for fishery biologists in the USGS Western Fisheries Research Center (WFRC). During the past decade WFRC researchers have perfected tagging, monitoring, and analytical techniques to estimate survival of juvenile salmon and steelhead at many locations in the western United States. These studies typically involve the use of PIT-tags or active transmitters (radio or acoustic) to monitor study fish. In recent years fishery managers have become increasingly interested in survival rates of salmon and steelhead fry, which are too small for tagging with traditional methods. In 2016, WFRC researchers were tasked with developing a study design and implementation plan to evaluate Chinook salmon fry survival in Lookout Point Reservoir, Oregon during a pilot study in 2017. A recently published open-file report describes these efforts which include plans for evaluating the performance of two study design options.

Kock, T.J., Perry, R.W., Monzyk, F.R., Pope, A.C., and Plumb, J.M., 2016, Development of a study design and implementation plan to estimate juvenile salmon survival in Lookout Point Reservoir and other reservoirs of the Willamette Project, western Oregon: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2016–1211, 25 p.

New Publication Provides Approach to Characterize Survival and Migration of Fish when Multiple Migration Pathways Exist: Characterizing the survival and movement of animals in the wild is the cornerstone to many demographic analyses. When multiple migration pathways exist, multistate release-recapture models can be used to evaluate movements and migrations. In a recent article of Biotelemetry, scientists from University of Washington and USGS constructed a software package allowing the user to build multistate release-recapture models with a graphic user interface (GUI) to evaluate performance parameters of migrating fish. The paper illustrates using Program Branch to evaluate the spawning behavior of shortnose suckers in Northern California, juvenile Chinook salmon outmigration through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta of California, and adult steelhead migration in the Columbia/Snake River Basin in the Pacific Northwest. The software is made available online ( and makes the analysis of complex multistate models easier and allows investigators to review study designs to ensure important model parameters are estimable.

Pope, A.C., J.R. Skalski, T. Lockhart, and R.A. Buchanan.  2016. Generation of multistate release–recapture models using a graphic user interface (GUI). Anim. Biotelem. 4:23.