A molecular analysis of hybridization between native westslope cutthroat trout and introduced rainbow trout in southeastern British Columbia, Canada


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Restriction site variation in the Ikaros gene intron was used to assess the incidence of westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi), rainbow trout (O. mykiss) and interspecific hybrids at 11 localities among eight streams tributary to the upper Kootenay River system in south-eastern British Columbia, Canada. Out of 356 fish assayed by this technique, hybrids (n=16) were found at seven of the 11 sites across five different streams. Rainbow trout (n=6) were found at two of the 11 sites. Analysis of hybrids with a second genetic marker (heat shock 71 intron) indicated that most represented either backcrosses to both westslope cutthroat and rainbow trout, or post F1 hybrids. Mitochondrial DNA analysis indicated that hybrid matings occur between male rainbow trout and female westslope cutthroat trout and vice versa. Comparison of present hybridization in five tributaries relative to an allozyme-based analysis in the mid-1980s, that documented hybrids in only a single tributary of seven that were common to the two studies, suggests that hybridization and introgression has increased in upper Kootenay River tributaries. The present analysis is a conservative estimate of genetic interaction between the species because introgression was not tested in the majority of samples. Identification of genetically pure westslope cutthroat trout populations, and why they might be resistant to introgression from rainbow trout, are crucial conservation priorities for this unique subspecies of cutthroat trout.