Changes in genetic variation across a species range may indicate patterns of population structure resulting from past ecological and demographic events that are otherwise difficult to infer and thus provide insight into evolutionary development. Genetic data is used, drawn from 11 microsatellite loci amplified from anadromous steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) sampled throughout its range in the eastern Pacific Ocean, to explore population structure at the southern edge in California. Steelhead populations in this region represent less than 10% of their reported historic abundance and survive in very small populations found in fragmented habitats. Genetic data derived from three independent molecular systems (allozymes, mtDNA, and microsatellites) have shown that the southernmost populations are characterized by a relatively high genetic diversity. Two hypothetical models supporting genetic population substructure such as observed were considered: (1) range expansion with founder-flush effects and subsequent population decline; (2) a second Pleistocene radiation from the Gulf of California. Using genetic and climatic data, a second Pleistocene refugium contributing to a southern ecotone seems more feasible. These data support strong conservation measures based on genetic diversity be developed to ensure the survival of this uniquely diverse gene pool.
Additional publication details
The evolutionary history of steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) along the US Pacific Coast: Developing a conservation strategy using genetic diversity