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Archaeological data provide alternative hypotheses on Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) distribution, abundance, and variability

McKechnie, Iain, Lepofsky, Dana, Moss, Madonna L., Butler, Virginia L., Orchard, Trevor J., Coupland, Gary, Foster, Fredrick, Caldwell, Megan, Lertzman, Ken
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2014 v.111 no.9 pp. E807
Clupea pallasii pallasii, bones, data collection, harvesters, herring, temporal variation, variance, Alaska, British Columbia, Washington (state)
Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii), a foundation of coastal social-ecological systems, is in decline throughout much of its range. We assembled data on fish bones from 171 archaeological sites from Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington to provide proxy measures of past herring distribution and abundance. The dataset represents 435,777 fish bones, dating throughout the Holocene, but primarily to the last 2,500 y. Herring is the single-most ubiquitous fish taxon (99% ubiquity) and among the two most abundant taxa in 80% of individual assemblages. Herring bones are archaeologically abundant in all regions, but are superabundant in the northern Salish Sea and southwestern Vancouver Island areas. Analyses of temporal variability in 50 well-sampled sites reveals that herring exhibits consistently high abundance (>20% of fish bones) and consistently low variance (<10%) within the majority of sites (88% and 96%, respectively). We pose three alternative hypotheses to account for the disjunction between modern and archaeological herring populations. We reject the first hypothesis that the archaeological data overestimate past abundance and underestimate past variability. We are unable to distinguish between the second two hypotheses, which both assert that the archaeological data reflect a higher mean abundance of herring in the past, but differ in whether variability was similar to or less than that observed recently. In either case, sufficient herring was consistently available to meet the needs of harvesters, even if variability is damped in the archaeological record. These results provide baseline information prior to herring depletion and can inform modern management.