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Open Access Research article

Watershed boundaries and geographic isolation: patterns of diversification in cutthroat trout from western North America

Janet L Loxterman* and Ernest R Keeley

Author affiliations

Department of Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, Stop 8007, Pocatello, ID, USA 83209

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:38  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-38

Published: 19 March 2012

Abstract

Background

For wide-ranging species, intraspecific variation can occur as a result of reproductive isolation from local adaptive differences or from physical barriers to movement. Cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii), a widely distributed fish species from North America, has been divided into numerous putative subspecies largely based on its isolation in different watersheds. In this study, we examined mtDNA sequence variation of cutthroat trout to determine the major phylogenetic lineages of this polytypic species. We use these data as a means of testing whether geographic isolation by watershed boundaries can be a primary factor organizing intraspecific diversification.

Results

We collected cutthroat trout from locations spanning almost the entire geographic range of this species and included samples from all major subspecies of cutthroat trout. Based on our analyses, we reveal eight major lineages of cutthroat trout, six of which correspond to subspecific taxonomy commonly used to describe intraspecific variation in this species. The Bonneville cutthroat trout (O. c. utah) and Yellowstone cutthroat trout (O. c. bouvieri) did not form separate monophyletic lineages, but instead formed an intermixed clade. We also document the geographic distribution of a Great Basin lineage of cutthroat trout; a group typically defined as Bonneville cutthroat trout, but it appears more closely related to the Colorado River lineage of cutthroat trout.

Conclusion

Our study indicates that watershed boundaries can be an organizing factor isolating genetic diversity in fishes; however, historical connections between watersheds can also influence the template of isolation. Widely distributed species, like cutthroat trout, offer an opportunity to assess where historic watershed connections may have existed, and help explain the current distribution of biological diversity across a landscape.