Hiding in plain sight: A case for cryptic metapopulations in brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)

David C. Kazyak, Robert H. Hilderbrand, Tim L. King, Stephen R. Keller, Vikram E. Chhatre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


A fundamental issue in the management and conservation of biodiversity is how to define a population. Spatially contiguous fish occupying a stream network have often been considered to represent a single, homogenous population. However, they may also represent multiple discrete populations, a single population with genetic isolation-by-distance, or a metapopulation. We used microsatellite DNA and a large-scale mark-recapture study to assess population structure in a spatially contiguous sample of Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), a species of conservation concern. We found evidence for limited genetic exchange across small spatial scales and in the absence of barriers to physical movement. Markrecapture and stationary passive integrated transponder antenna records demonstrated that fish from two tributaries very seldom moved into the opposite tributary, but movements between the tributaries and mainstem were more common. Using Bayesian genetic clustering, we identified two genetic groups that exhibited significantly different growth rates over three years of study, yet survival rates were very similar. Our study highlights the importance of considering the possibility of multiple genetically distinct populations occurring within spatially contiguous habitats, and suggests the existence of a cryptic metapopulation: a spatially continuous distribution of organisms exhibiting metapopulation-like behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0146295
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 5 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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