Population decline in the federally endangered June sucker (Chasmistes liorus), a lakesucker unique to Utah Lake, Utah, has been attributed in part to hybridization with the more widespread Utah sucker (Catostomus ardens). As a group, suckers in Utah Lake exhibit considerable external morphological variation. Meristic and morphological ambiguities, presumably the result of hybridization, create a continuum of intermediate forms between Chasmistes and Catostomus extremes and prevent definitive identification to species. Here we describe and evaluate the morphological and genetic variation in suckers in Utah Lake by comparing a morphological analysis with amplified fragment length polymorphism and microsatellite analyses. Suckers were morphologically differentiated using mouth characters associated with different feeding strategies: planktivory (June sucker) and benthivory (Utah sucker). Although we found no genetic evidence for a deep divergence between June and Utah morphs, significant, but slight population structuring accompanied the substantial morphological variation. Bayesian model-based genetic clustering analyses detected two sucker populations in Utah Lake; however, these clusters were not strongly concordant with morphological groupings or between marker systems. The suckers in Utah Lake present an interesting dilemma regarding conservation: should one conserve (breed and stock) a subset of the morphotypic variation in the Utah Lake sucker complex, focusing on the endangered June sucker morphotype, or should one conserve both June sucker and Utah sucker morphotypes in this complex, possibly maximizing evolutionary potential? We explore this question in the context of current genetic and morphological variation in the Utah Lake sucker complex as well as historical information on this complex and other lakesuckers.
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