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PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e51122. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051122. Epub 2012 Nov 30.

High potential for using DNA from ancient herring bones to inform modern fisheries management and conservation.

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  • 1Ancient DNA Laboratory, Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. cfspelle@sfu.ca

Erratum in

  • PLoS One. 2013;8(6). doi: 10.1371/annotation/cd8623ff-b708-4972-8d59-803e56e77005.


Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi) are an abundant and important component of the coastal ecosystems for the west coast of North America. Current Canadian federal herring management assumes five regional herring populations in British Columbia with a high degree of exchange between units, and few distinct local populations within them. Indigenous traditional knowledge and historic sources, however, suggest that locally adapted, distinct regional herring populations may have been more prevalent in the past. Within the last century, the combined effects of commercial fishing and other anthropogenic factors have resulted in severe declines of herring populations, with contemporary populations potentially reflecting only the remnants of a previously more abundant and genetically diverse metapopulation. Through the analysis of 85 archaeological herring bones, this study attempted to reconstruct the genetic diversity and population structure of ancient herring populations using three different marker systems (mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), microsatellites and SNPs). A high success rate (91%) of DNA recovery was obtained from the extremely small herring bone samples (often <10 mg). The ancient herring mtDNA revealed high haplotype diversity comparable to modern populations, although population discrimination was not possible due to the limited power of the mtDNA marker. Ancient microsatellite diversity was also similar to modern samples, but the data quality was compromised by large allele drop-out and stuttering. In contrast, SNPs were found to have low error rates with no evidence for deviations from Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, and simulations indicated high power to detect genetic differentiation if loci under selection are used. This study demonstrates that SNPs may be the most effective and feasible approach to survey genetic population structure in ancient remains, and further efforts should be made to screen for high differentiation markers.This study provides the much needed foundation for wider scale studies on temporal genetic variation in herring, with important implications for herring fisheries management, Aboriginal title rights and herring conservation.

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