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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Parallel divergent adaptation along replicated altitudinal gradients in Alpine trout

Irene Keller12*, Jolanda Schuler13, Etienne Bezault134 and Ole Seehausen13

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Fish Ecology and Evolution, EAWAG Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Center of Ecology, Evolution and Biogeochemistry, Seestrasse 79, 6047 Kastanienbaum, Switzerland

2 Department of Aquatic Ecology, EAWAG Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Überlandstrasse 133, 8600, Dübendorf, Switzerland

3 Department of Aquatic Ecology and Macroevolution, Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 6, 3012 Bern, Switzerland

4 Present address: Department of Biology, Reed College, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd, Portland, OR, 97202-8199, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:210  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-210

Published: 27 October 2012



The European trout (Salmo trutta species complex) occurs across a very wide altitudinal range from lowland rivers to alpine streams. Historically, the major European river systems contained different, evolutionarily distinct trout lineages, and some of this genetic diversity has persisted in spite of extensive human-mediated translocations. We used AFLP-based genome scans to investigate the extent of potentially adaptive divergence among major drainages and along altitudinal gradients replicated in several rivers.


The proportion of loci showing evidence of divergent selection was larger between drainages than along altitudinal transects within drainages. This suggests divergent selection is stronger between drainages, or adaptive divergence is constrained by gene flow among populations within drainages, although the latter could not be confirmed at a more local scale. Still, altitudinal divergence occurred and, at approximately 2% of the markers, parallel changes of the AFLP band frequencies with altitude were observed suggesting that altitude may well be an important source of divergent selection within rivers.


Our results indicate that adaptive genetic divergence is common both between major European river systems and along altitudinal gradients within drainages. Alpine trout appear to be a promising model system to investigate the relative roles of divergent selection and gene flow in promoting or preventing adaptation to climate gradients.

European trout; Local adaptation; Genome scan; AFLP; Environmental gradient; Parallel adaptation