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Landscape genetics and hierarchical genetic structure in Atlantic salmon: the interaction of gene flow and local adaptation


Mélanie Dionne, Fax: 418–656–7176; E-mail:


Disentangling evolutionary forces that may interact to determine the patterns of genetic differentiation within and among wild populations is a major challenge in evolutionary biology. The objective of this study was to assess the genetic structure and the potential influence of several ecological variables on the extent of genetic differentiation at multiple spatial scales in a widely distributed species, the Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar. A total of 2775 anadromous fish were sampled from 51 rivers along the North American Atlantic coast and were genotyped using 13 microsatellites. A Bayesian analysis clustered these populations into seven genetically and geographically distinct groups, characterized by different environmental and ecological factors, mainly temperature. These groups were also characterized by different extent of genetic differentiation among populations. Dispersal was relatively high and of the same magnitude within compared to among regional groups, which contrasted with the maintenance of a regional genetic structure. However, genetic differentiation was lower among populations exchanging similar rates of local as opposed to inter-regional migrants, over the same geographical scale. This raised the hypothesis that gene flow could be constrained by local adaptation at the regional scale. Both coastal distance and temperature regime were found to influence the observed genetic structure according to landscape genetic analyses. The influence of other factors such as latitude, river length and altitude, migration tactic, and stocking was not significant at any spatial scale. Overall, these results suggested that the interaction between gene flow and thermal regime adaptation mainly explained the hierarchical genetic structure observed among Atlantic salmon populations.