Genome-wide association reveals genetic basis for the propensity to migrate in wild populations of rainbow and steelhead trout


Correspondence: Benjamin Hecht, Fax: +1 208 837 6047; E-mail:


Little is known of the genetic basis of migration despite the ecological benefits migratory species provide to their communities and their rapid global decline due to anthropogenic disturbances in recent years. Using next-generation sequencing of restriction-site-associated DNA (RAD) tags, we genotyped thousands of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in two wild populations of migratory steelhead and resident rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) from the Pacific Northwest of the United States. One population maintains a connection to the sea, whereas the other population has been sequestered from its access to the ocean for more than 50 years by a hydropower dam. Here we performed a genome-wide association study to identify 504 RAD SNP markers from several genetic regions that were associated with the propensity to migrate both within and between the populations. Our results corroborate those in previous quantitative trait loci studies and provide evidence for additional loci associated with this complex migratory life history. Our results suggest a complex multi-genic basis with several loci of small effect distributed throughout the genome contributing to migration in this species. We also determined that despite being sequestered for decades, the landlocked population continues to harbour genetic variation associated with a migratory life history and ATPase activity. Furthermore, we demonstrate the utility of genotyping-by-sequencing and how RAD-tag SNP data can be readily compared between studies to investigate migration within this species.