The past, present, and a future for native charr in Japan

Ichthyological Research
By: , and 



Charrs (Salvelinus) reach their southernmost distribution in Japan, and are uniquely adapted to the short, steep streams of this island archipelago. Southern Asian Dolly Varden (Salvelinus curilus) occur only in Hokkaido Island, whereas white-spotted charr (Salvelinus leucomaenis) range to southern Honshu. Both species diverged from an ancestral lineage during the late Pliocene/early Pleistocene, when lowered sea levels created semi-enclosed water bodies in the seas of Japan and Okhotsk. Genetic analyses showed S. curilus represents the most ancient divergence from the Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma) - Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) group, and revealed five lineages of S. leucomaenis which align differently than traditional subspecies. Japanese charr display diverse and flexible life histories including anadromous fish with partial migration, and fluvial, adfluvial, and resident forms. In Hokkaido, Dolly Varden are distributed upstream and white-spotted charr downstream. They coexist in narrow sympatric zones through adaptive shifts by Dolly Varden in behavior and morphology that facilitate benthic foraging. Both species hybridize with native and nonnative salmonids, and are displaced from microhabitats and decline in abundance when rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and brown trout (Salmo trutta) invade. Japan streams contain over 95,000 erosion control dams which create short stream fragments (medians ~200 m). This has increased extirpation of charr populations via lower genetic diversity and stochastic and demographic factors. Tributaries provide complex rearing habitats, afford refuges from floods, and supply recruits that sustain populations in mainstem fragments and create metapopulations in connected riverscapes. Charr play central roles in linked stream-riparian food webs, and cause direct and indirect effects that cascade to streambed algae and riparian predators when linkages are disrupted by anthropogenic effects or altered by native parasites. Many charr populations are threatened by habitat fragmentation and introgression or invasion by nonnative forms, but efforts to conserve charr are growing. These include restoring connectivity among pure populations above barriers that prevent invasions, protecting tributary nurseries, and instituting angling regulations to protect headwater populations. Key steps include inventorying pure populations, identifying conservation units, selecting appropriate management based on connectivity and biotic interactions, and engaging stakeholders and youth to engender an ethic for conserving irreplaceable charr lineages.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The past, present, and a future for native charr in Japan
Series title Ichthyological Research
DOI 10.1007/s10228-024-00955-3
Edition Online First
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Country Japan
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details