Genetic diversity is related to climatic variation and vulnerability in threatened bull trout

Global Change Biology
By: , and 



Understanding how climatic variation influences ecological and evolutionary processes is crucial for informed conservation decision-making. Nevertheless, few studies have measured how climatic variation influences genetic diversity within populations or how genetic diversity is distributed across space relative to future climatic stress. Here, we tested whether patterns of genetic diversity (allelic richness) were related to climatic variation and habitat features in 130 bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) populations from 24 watersheds (i.e., ~4–7th order river subbasins) across the Columbia River Basin, USA. We then determined whether bull trout genetic diversity was related to climate vulnerability at the watershed scale, which we quantified on the basis of exposure to future climatic conditions (projected scenarios for the 2040s) and existing habitat complexity. We found a strong gradient in genetic diversity in bull trout populations across the Columbia River Basin, where populations located in the most upstream headwater areas had the greatest genetic diversity. After accounting for spatial patterns with linear mixed models, allelic richness in bull trout populations was positively related to habitat patch size and complexity, and negatively related to maximum summer temperature and the frequency of winter flooding. These relationships strongly suggest that climatic variation influences evolutionary processes in this threatened species and that genetic diversity will likely decrease due to future climate change. Vulnerability at a watershed scale was negatively correlated with average genetic diversity (= −0.77;< 0.001); watersheds containing populations with lower average genetic diversity generally had the lowest habitat complexity, warmest stream temperatures, and greatest frequency of winter flooding. Together, these findings have important conservation implications for bull trout and other imperiled species. Genetic diversity is already depressed where climatic vulnerability is highest; it will likely erode further in the very places where diversity may be most needed for future persistence.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Genetic diversity is related to climatic variation and vulnerability in threatened bull trout
Series title Global Change Biology
DOI 10.1111/gcb.12850
Volume 21
Issue 7
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Blackwell Science
Publisher location Oxford, England
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description 15 p.
First page 2510
Last page 2524
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details