Mitochondrial DNA variation in bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) from northwestern North America: implications for zoogeography and conservation



Bull trout, Salvelinus confluentus (Salmonidae), are distributed in northwestern North America from Nevada to Yukon Territory, largely in interior drainages. The species is of conservation concern owing to declines in abundance, particularly in southern portions of its range. To investigate phylogenetic structure within bull trout that might form the basis for the delineation of major conservation units, we conducted a mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) survey in bull trout from throughout its range. Restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis of four segments of the mtDNA genome with 11 restriction enzymes resolved 21 composite haplotypes that differed by an average of 0.5% in sequence. One group of haplotypes predominated in ‘coastal’ areas (west of the coastal mountain ranges) while another predominated in ‘interior’ regions (east of the coastal mountains). The two putative lineages differed by 0.8% in sequence and were also resolved by sequencing a portion of the ND1 gene in a representative of each RFLP haplotype. Significant variation existed within individual sample sites (12% of total variation) and among sites within major geographical regions (33%), but most variation (55%) was associated with differences between coastal and interior regions. We concluded that: (i) bull trout are subdivided into coastal and interior lineages; (ii) this subdivision reflects recent historical isolation in two refugia south of the Cordilleran ice sheet during the Pleistocene: the Chehalis and Columbia refugia; and (iii) most of the molecular variation resides at the interpopulation and inter-region levels. Conservation efforts, therefore, should focus on maintaining as many populations as possible across as many geographical regions as possible within both coastal and interior lineages.