Microsatellite and mtDNA analysis of lake trout, Salvelinus namaycush, from Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories: impacts of historical and contemporary evolutionary forces on Arctic ecosystems



Les N. Harris, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 501 University Crescent, Winnipeg, MB, Canada, R3T 2N6. Tel: +1-204-983-5143; Fax: +1-204-984-2403; E-mail:


Resolving the genetic population structure of species inhabiting pristine, high latitude ecosystems can provide novel insights into the post-glacial, evolutionary processes shaping the distribution of contemporary genetic variation. In this study, we assayed genetic variation in lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) from Great Bear Lake (GBL), NT and one population outside of this lake (Sandy Lake, NT) at 11 microsatellite loci and the mtDNA control region (d-loop). Overall, population subdivision was low, but significant (global FST θ = 0.025), and pairwise comparisons indicated that significance was heavily influenced by comparisons between GBL localities and Sandy Lake. Our data indicate that there is no obvious genetic structure among the various basins within GBL (global FST = 0.002) despite the large geographic distances between sampling areas. We found evidence of low levels of contemporary gene flow among arms within GBL, but not between Sandy Lake and GBL. Coalescent analyses suggested that some historical gene flow occurred among arms within GBL and between GBL and Sandy Lake. It appears, therefore, that contemporary (ongoing dispersal and gene flow) and historical (historical gene flow and large founding and present-day effective population sizes) factors contribute to the lack of neutral genetic structure in GBL. Overall, our results illustrate the importance of history (e.g., post-glacial colonization) and contemporary dispersal ecology in shaping genetic population structure of Arctic faunas and provide a better understanding of the evolutionary ecology of long-lived salmonids in pristine, interconnected habitats.