• FST outlier;
  • major histocompatibility complex (MHC);
  • microsatellites;
  • selection;
  • steelhead


The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) contains genes integral to immune response in vertebrates. MHC genes have been shown to be under selection in a number of vertebrate taxa, making them intriguing for population genetic studies. We have conducted a survey of genetic variation in an MHC class II gene for steelhead trout from 24 sites in coastal California and compared this variation to that observed at 16 presumably neutral microsatellite loci. A high amount of allelic variation was observed at the MHC when compared to previously published studies on other Pacific salmonids. Elevated nonsynonymous substitutions, relative to synonymous substitutions, were detected at the MHC gene, indicating the signature of historical balancing selection. The MHC data were tested for correlations to and deviations from the patterns found with the microsatellite data. Estimates of allelic richness for the MHC gene and for the microsatellites were positively correlated, as were estimates of population differentiation (FST). An analysis for FST outliers indicates that the MHC locus has an elevated FST relative to the neutral expectation, although a significant result was found for only one particular geographical subgroup. Relatively uniform allele frequency distributions were detected in four populations, although this finding may be partially due to recent population bottlenecks. These results indicate that, at the scale studied here, drift and migration play a major role in the observed geographical variability of MHC genes in steelhead, and that contemporary selection is relatively weak and difficult to detect.