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J Hered. 2009 Sep-Oct;100(5):515-25. doi: 10.1093/jhered/esp040. Epub 2009 Jun 26.

Over the falls? Rapid evolution of ecotypic differentiation in steelhead/rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss).

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Fisheries Ecology Division, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA.


Adaptation to novel habitats and phenotypic plasticity can be counteracting forces in evolution, but both are key characteristics of the life history of steelhead/rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Anadromous steelhead reproduce in freshwater river systems and small coastal streams but grow and mature in the ocean. Resident rainbow trout, either sympatric with steelhead or isolated above barrier dams or waterfalls, represent an alternative life-history form that lives entirely in freshwater. We analyzed population genetic data from 1486 anadromous and resident O. mykiss from a small stream in coastal California with multiple barrier waterfalls. Based on data from 18 highly variable microsatellite loci (He = 0.68), we conclude that the resident population above one barrier, Big Creek Falls, is the result of a recent anthropogenic introduction from the anadromous population of O. mykiss below the falls. Furthermore, fish from this above-barrier population occasionally descend over the falls and have established a genetically differentiated below-barrier subpopulation at the base of the falls, which appears to remain reproductively isolated from their now-sympatric anadromous ancestors. These results support a hypothesis of rapid evolution of a purely resident life history in the above-barrier population in response to strong selection against downstream movement.

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