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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Population genetic structure of North American broad whitefish, Coregonus nasus (Pallas), with emphasis on the Mackenzie River system Harris, Les N.


Broad whitefish, Coregonus nasus, is an important subsistence fish species in Arctic North America, yet virtually nothing is known regarding the genetic population structure of Nearctic populations of this species. In this thesis, microsatellite DNA variation was assayed among 1213 broad whitefish from 47 localities throughout North America, with emphasis on the Mackenzie River system, Northwest Territories. Specifically, I examined geographic variation in allele frequencies to assess how historical factors (Pleistocene glaciations) have shaped the current structuring of genetic variability and population differentiation. Microsatellite data was also used to resolve the relative contributions of broad whitefish populations to subsistence fisheries in the Mackenzie River system. Overall, broad whitefish exhibit relatively high intrapopulation microsatellite variation (average 12.29 alleles/locus, average HE = 0.58) and there were declines in these measures of genetic diversity with distance from putative refugia suggesting historical factors, namely post-glacial dispersal, have influenced current microsatellite variation. Interpopulation divergence was low (overall FST = 0.07), but the main regions assayed in this study (Russia, Alaska, Mackenzie River and Travaillant Lake systems) are genetically differentiated. Strong isolation-by-distance among samples was resolved when including only those populations occupying former Beringia, but not when assaying those at the periphery of the range in the Mackenzie River system, suggesting that broad whitefish in the Mackenzie system have not occupied the region long enough since their invasion post-glacially to have approached equilibrium between gene flow and drift. Mixture analysis indicated that most fish from the lower Mackenzie River subsistence fishery originated from the Peel River, highlighting the importance of this tributary. Additionally the mixture analysis provides evidence for a putative riverine life history form in the Mackenzie River. My results indicate that glaciation and post-glacial colonization have been important in shaping the current genetic population structure of North American broad whitefish. They also illustrate the utility of microsatellite DNA to delineate population structure and patterns of genetic diversity in recently founded populations in addition to resolving contributions to fisheries. My data also support the hypothesis that there are several designatable units of conservation among broad whitefish populations and that management strategies should be implemented accordingly.

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