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Genetica. 2001;112-113:493-513.

Evolution of chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) populations in New Zealand: pattern, rate, and process.

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  • 1School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle 98195, USA.


Chinook salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, from the Sacramento River, California, USA were introduced to New Zealand between 1901 and 1907, and colonized most of their present-day range within about 10 years. The New Zealand populations now vary in phenotypic traits typically used to differentiate salmon populations within their natural range: growth in freshwater and at sea, age at maturity, dates of return to fresh water and reproduction, morphology, and reproductive allocation. This paper reviews a large research program designed to determine the relative contributions of phenotypic plasticity and genetic adaptation to this variation, in an effort to understand the processes underlying the natural evolution of new populations. We found strong evidence of trait divergence between populations within at most 30 generations, particularly in freshwater growth rate, date of return, and reproductive output, with plausible adaptive bases for these differences. Importantly, we also demonstrated not only a genetic basis for post-release survival but higher survival, and hence fitness, of a population released from its established site compared to another population released from the same site. We conclude that divergence of salmon in different rivers probably resulted initially from phenotypic plasticity (e.g., habitat-specific growth rates, and effects of upriver migration on ovarian investment). Philopatry (homing to natal streams) combined with rapid evolution of distinct breeding periods to restrict gene flow, facilitating divergence in other traits. We also suggest that in addition to genetic divergence resulting from random founder effects, divergence may also arise during the very early stages of colonization when the original colonists are a non-random, pre-adapted subset of the source population. This 'favored founders effect' immediately improves the fitness of the new population. Overall, this research reveals the complex interplay of environmental and genetic controls over behavior, physiology and life history that characterize the early stages of population differentiation, a process that has taken place repeatedly during the history of salmon populations.

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