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Keywords:

  • microsatellites;
  • morphology;
  • mtDNA;
  • reproductive isolation;
  • Salvelinus;
  • sympatric populations

Abstract

The North Pacific Ocean has been of great significance to understanding biogeography and speciation in temperate faunas, including for two species of char (Salmonidae: Salvelinus) whose evolutionary relationship has been controversial. We examined the morphology and genetics (microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA) of Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) and Dolly Varden char (Salvelinus malma) in lake systems in western Alaska, the eastern and western Arctic, and south of the Alaskan Peninsula. Morphologically, each lake system contained two forms: one (Arctic char) largely confined to lake habitats and characterized by greater numbers of pyloric caeca, gill rakers, and shallower bodies, and another (Dolly Varden) predominated in adjacent stream habitats and was characterized by fewer pyloric caeca, gill rakers, and deeper bodies. MtDNA partial (550 bp) d-loop sequences of both taxa were interspersed with each other within a single ‘Bering’ clade and demographic inferences suggested historical gene flow from Dolly Varden to Arctic char had occurred. By contrast, the taxa were strongly differentiated in sympatry across nine microsatellite loci in both lakes. Our data show that the two taxa are highly genetically distinct in sympatry, supporting their status as valid biological species, despite occasional hybridization. The interaction between these species highlights the importance of the North Pacific, and Beringia in particular, as an evolutionary wellspring of biodiversity.