To examine the population genetic structure of lake-resident Arctic charr, Salvelinus alpinus from northwest Europe on multiple spatial scales, 2367 individuals from 43 lakes located in three geographical regions (Iceland, the British Isles and Scandinavia) were genotyped at six microsatellite loci. On a large scale, data provided little evidence to support clustering of populations according to geographical region. Hierarchical analysis of molecular variance indicated that, although statistically significant, only 2.17% of the variance in allelic frequencies was partitioned at the among-region level. Within regions, high levels of genetic differentiation were typically found between lakes regardless of the geographical distance separating them. These results are consistent with the hypothesis of rapid postglacial recolonization of all of northwest Europe from a single charr lineage, with subsequent restriction of gene flow. On a smaller scale, there was evidence for close genetic relationships among lakes from within common drainage basins in Scotland. Thus, interlake genetic structure reflects localized patterns of recent (or contemporary) gene flow superimposed onto a larger scale structure that is largely a result of historical processes. There was also evidence for widespread genetic structuring at the within-lake level, with sympatric populations detected in 10 lakes, and multilocus heterozygote deficits found in 23 lakes. This evidence of the Wahlund effect was found in all lakes known to contain discrete phenotypic morphs, as well as many others, suggesting that morphs may often represent separate breeding populations, and also that the phenomenon of polymorphism in this species may be more widespread than is currently realized.
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