• glacial refugia;
  • Great Lakes;
  • natal homing;
  • Percidae;
  • population genetics;
  • Sander vitreus;
  • walleye


Population genetic relationships reveal the signatures of current processes such as reproductive behaviour and migration, as well as historic events including vicariance and climate change. We analyse population structure of native walleye Sander vitreus across North America, encompassing 10 nuclear DNA microsatellite loci, 26 spawning sites and 921 samples from watersheds across the Great Lakes, Lake Winnipeg, upper Mississippi River, Ohio River and Mobile Bay of the Gulf Coast. Geographical patterning is assessed using phylogenetic trees, pairwise FST analogues, hierarchical partitioning, Mantel regression, Bayesian assignment and Monmonier geographical networks. Results reveal congruent divergences among population groups, corresponding to historic isolation in glacial refugia, dispersal patterns and basin divisions. Broad-scale relationships show genetic isolation with geographical distance, but reproductive groups within basins do not – with some having pronounced differences. Greatest divergence distinguishes outlying Gulf Coastal and northwest populations, the latter tracing to dispersal from the Missourian refugium to former glacial Lake Agassiz, and basin isolation ∼7000 ya. Genetic barriers in the Great Lakes separate groups in Lakes Superior, Huron’s Georgian Bay, Erie and Ontario, reflecting contributions from Mississippian and Atlantic refugia, and changes in connectivity patterns. Walleye genetic patterns thus reflect vicariance among watersheds and glacial refugia, followed by re-colonization pathways and changing drainage connections that established modern-day northern populations, whose separations are maintained through spawning site fidelity. Conservation management practices should preserve genetic identity and unique characters among these divergent walleye populations.