• Coregonus;
  • hybrid zone;
  • introgression;
  • microsatellites;
  • mtDNA;
  • speciation


We performed a combined analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and microsatellite loci among lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) populations in order to assess the levels of congruence between both types of markers in defining patterns of genetic structuring, introgressive hybridization and inferring population origins in the hybrid zone of the St. John River basin. A second objective was to test the hypothesis that secondary contact between glacial lineages always resulted in the occurrence of sympatric dwarf and normal whitefish ecotypes. Fish were sampled from 35 populations and polymorphism was screened at mtDNA and six microsatellite loci for a total of 688 and 763 whitefish, respectively. Four lakes harbouring a single whitefish population of normal ecotype admixed with mtDNA haplotypes of different lineages were found. This confirmed that secondary contact between whitefish evolutionary lineages did not always result in the persistence of reproductively isolated ecotypes. Microsatellites further supported the definition of distinct glacial lineages by identifying lineage-specific allelic size groups. They also further supported the hypothesis that ecotypes originated from either a single founding lineage (sympatric divergence) or following secondary contacts between lineages (allopatric divergence), depending on the lake. In general, however, the pattern of population differentiation and introgressive hybridization observed at microsatellites was in sharp contrast with that depicted by mtDNA variation. Both factorial correspondence analysis and analysis of admixture proportion revealed a much more pronounced pattern of introgressive hybridization than depicted by mtDNA analyses. Variable levels of introgression indicated that environmental differences may be as important as the historical contingency of secondary contact in explaining the persistence of sympatric ecotypes and the differential pattern of introgressive hybridization among lakes. Whitefish populations from the St. John River basin hybrid zone represent a rare illustration of a continuum of both morphological and genetic differentiation within a given taxon, spanning from complete introgression to possibly complete reproductive isolation, depending on lakes. Thus, each lake may be viewed as a different temporal snapshot taken throughout the gradual process of speciation.