Because human land use activities often result in increased fragmentation of aquatic and terrestrial habitats, a better understanding of the effects of fragmentation on the genetic heterogeneity of animal populations may be useful for effective management. We used eight microsatellites to examine the genetic structure of coastal cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki clarki) in Camp Creek, an isolated headwater stream in western Oregon. Our objectives were to determine if coastal cutthroat trout were genetically structured within streams and to assess the effects of natural and anthropogenic barriers on coastal cutthroat trout genetic variation. Fish sampling occurred at 10 locations, and allele frequencies differed significantly among all sampling sections. Dispersal barriers strongly influenced coastal cutthroat trout genetic structure and were associated with reduced genetic diversity and increased genetic differentiation. Results indicate that Camp Creek coastal cutthroat trout exist as many small, partially independent populations that are strongly affected by genetic drift. In headwater streams, barriers to movement can result in genetic and demographic isolation leading to reduced coastal cutthroat trout genetic diversity, and potentially compromising long-term population persistence. When habitat fragmentation eliminates gene flow among small populations, similar results may occur in other species.
Additional publication details
Influence of barriers to movement on within-watershed genetic variation of coastal cutthroat trout