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Investigating the morphological and genetic divergence of arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) populations in lakes of arctic Alaska

April 1, 2021

Polymorphism facilitates coexistence of divergent morphs (e.g., phenotypes) of the same species by minimizing intraspecific competition, especially when resources are limiting. Arctic char (Salvelinus sp.) are a Holarctic fish often forming morphologically, and sometimes genetically, divergent morphs. In this study, we assessed the morphological and genetic diversity and divergence of 263 individuals from seven populations of arctic char with varying length-frequency distributions across two distinct groups of lakes in northern Alaska. Despite close geographic proximity, each lake group occurs on landscapes with different glacial ages and surface water connectivity, and thus was likely colonized by fishes at different times. Across lakes, a continuum of physical (e.g., lake area, maximum depth) and biological characteristics (e.g., primary productivity, fish density) exists, likely contributing to characteristics of present-day char populations. Although some lakes exhibit bimodal size distributions, using model-based clustering of morphometric traits corrected for allometry, we did not detect morphological differences within and across char populations. Genomic analyses using 15,934 SNPs obtained from genotyping by sequencing demonstrated differences among lake groups related to historical biogeography, but within lake groups and within individual lakes, genetic differentiation was not related to total body length. We used PERMANOVA to identify environmental and biological factors related to observed char size structure. Significant predictors included water transparency (i.e., a primary productivity proxy), char density (fish·ha-1), and lake group. Larger char occurred in lakes with greater primary production and lower char densities, suggesting less intraspecific competition and resource limitation. Thus, char populations in more productive and connected lakes may prove more stable to environmental changes, relative to food-limited and closed lakes, if lake productivity increases concomitantly. Our findings provide some of the first descriptions of genomic characteristics of char populations in arctic Alaska, and offer important consideration for the persistence of these populations for subsistence and conservation.

Publication Year 2021
Title Investigating the morphological and genetic divergence of arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) populations in lakes of arctic Alaska
DOI 10.1002/ece3.7211
Authors Stephen L. Klobucar, Jessica A. Rick, Elizabeth G. Mandeville, Catherine E. Wagner, Phaedra E. Budy
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70228564
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle