Can common species provide valuable information for conservation?

Authors


Andrew R. Whiteley, Present address: Départment de biologie, Université Laval, Sainte-Foy, Québec, Canada G1K 7P4. Fax: (418) 656-2043; E-mail: andrew.whiteley.1@ulaval.ca

Abstract

To demonstrate the importance of genetic data for multispecies conservation approaches, we examined the distribution of genetic variation across the range of the mountain whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni) at microsatellite and allozyme loci. The mountain whitefish is a common species that is particularly well suited for accurately revealing historical patterns of genetic structure and differs markedly from previously studied species in habitat requirements and life history characteristics. As such, comparing the population genetic structure of other native fishes to similar data from mountain whitefish could inform management and conservation strategies. Genetic variation for mountain whitefish was hierarchically distributed for both allozymes and microsatellites. We found evidence for a total of five major genetically differentiated assemblages and we observed subdivision among populations within assemblages that generally corresponded to major river basins. We observed little genetic differentiation within major river basins. Geographic patterns of genetic differentiation for mountain whitefish were concordant with other native species in several circumstances, providing information for the designation of conservation units that reflect concordant genetic differentiation of multiple species. Differences in genetic patterns between mountain whitefish and other native fishes reflect either differences in evolutionary histories of the species considered or differences in aspects of their ecology and life history. In addition, mountain whitefish populations appear to exchange genes over a much larger geographic scale than co-occurring salmonids and are likely to be affected differently by disturbances such as habitat fragmentation.

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