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Open Access Research article

Tracing the first steps of American sturgeon pioneers in Europe

Arne Ludwig1*, Ursula Arndt123, Sebastian Lippold1, Norbert Benecke4, Lutz Debus5, Timothy L King6 and Shuichi Matsumura78

Author Affiliations

1 Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Evolutionary Genetics, 12561 Berlin, Germany

2 Palaeogenetics Laboratory, Johannes Gutenberg University, 55118 Mainz, Germany

3 Simon Fraser University, Department for Archaeology, Burnaby, BC, Canada

4 German Archaeological Institute, Department of Eurasia, Im Dol 2-6, 14195 Berlin, Germany

5 Aquaculture, Forstweg 1, 31582 Nienburg/Weser, Germany

6 United States Geological Survey, Leetown Science Center, 11649 Leetown Road, Kearneysville, West Virginia, 25430, USA

7 International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria

8 Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, 12567 Berlin, Germany

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:221  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-221

Published: 29 July 2008



A Baltic population of Atlantic sturgeon was founded ~1,200 years ago by migrants from North America, but after centuries of persistence, the population was extirpated in the 1960s, mainly as a result of over-harvest and habitat alterations. As there are four genetically distinct groups of Atlantic sturgeon inhabiting North American rivers today, we investigated the genetic provenance of the historic Baltic population by ancient DNA analyses using mitochondrial and nuclear markers.


The phylogeographic signal obtained from multilocus microsatellite DNA genotypes and mitochondrial DNA control region haplotypes, when compared to existing baseline datasets from extant populations, allowed for the identification of the region-of-origin of the North American Atlantic sturgeon founders. Moreover, statistical and simulation analyses of the multilocus genotypes allowed for the calculation of the effective number of individuals that originally founded the European population of Atlantic sturgeon. Our findings suggest that the Baltic population of A. oxyrinchus descended from a relatively small number of founders originating from the northern extent of the species' range in North America.


These results demonstrate that the most northerly distributed North American A. oxyrinchus colonized the Baltic Sea ~1,200 years ago, suggesting that Canadian specimens should be the primary source of broodstock used for restoration in Baltic rivers. This study illustrates the great potential of patterns obtained from ancient DNA to identify population-of-origin to investigate historic genotype structure of extinct populations.