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Studying the Influence of Environment and Landscape on Salmonid Genetics

We plan to test for associations of genetic data and environmental variables and apply these results to populations throughout the Columbia River Basin. This information will facilitate understanding of adaptation of natural populations of salmonids to their environment.

A fish technician taking a genetic sample of a salmon using a punch to take a small bit of the fish’s tail. The sample is then sent to the Hagerman Genetics Lab for study and evaluation.

Project Goal

We plan to test for associations of genetic data and environmental variables and apply these results to populations throughout the Columbia River Basin. This information will facilitate understanding of adaptation of natural populations of salmonids to their environment.

Impacts

This information will help evaluate populations at risk and strategies to maintain a sound genetic basis for restoration actions.

Background

Landscape features can greatly contribute to the population structure and life history diversification of organisms in both aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Genetics and environment can also interact to influence the expression of genes controlling physiological traits such as smoltification and response to high temperatures. In recent history, water temperatures in parts of the Columbia River basin have increased due to a wide range of factors including habitat destruction, dams, and possibly climate change. The physiological response and adaptation of steelhead to these circumstances may be critical to persistence of stocks in the Columbia River Basin. These traits play a role in recovery of ESA listed populations, and this research project is directed at determining the underlying genetic × environmental mechanisms associated with these traits.

Project Tasks

The study involves samples collected in both natural field environments and experimental laboratory conditions. Landscape genetics analyses methods will be utilized to evaluate hypotheses that landscape features influence genetic structure and life history variation of chinook salmon and steelhead. Physical variables such as elevation, stream gradient, water temperature, and geographic distance of each sample site will be included as potential landscape features that influence genetic diversity. Expression of genes related to smoltification and thermal tolerance will be quantified in fish under controlled environments, and putative quantitative trait loci (QTL) for smoltification and heat shock proteins (HSP) will be genotyped. We plan to test for associations of genetic data and environmental variables through rigorous statistical tests.

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