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Genetic connectivity and diversity of walleye (Sander vitreus) spawning groups in the Huron–Erie Corridor

Haponski, Amanda E., Stepien, Carol A.
Journal of Great Lakes research 2014 v.40 pp. 89-100
Sander vitreus, biodiversity, biological assessment, channelization, dredging, fish, fisheries, gene frequency, genetic recombination, genetic relationships, genetic variation, habitat destruction, habitats, microsatellite repeats, mitochondrial DNA, monitoring, nuclear genome, pollution, rivers, spawning, Lake Erie
The Huron–Erie Corridor (HEC) connects the upper and lower Great Lakes, providing key fish passage. A century of channelization, dredging, and pollution has led to habitat loss and declining fish numbers. Since 2004, the multi-agency HEC initiative augmented fish spawning habitat at Belle Isle and Fighting Island in the Detroit River, whose populations are examined here. We analyze genetic patterns among seven spawning groups (N=311) of walleye Sander vitreus, a key fishery species, using nine nuclear DNA microsatellite loci and mitochondrial DNA control region sequences. Results reveal that all spawning groups contained appreciable genetic diversity (microsatellites: HO=0.72; mtDNA: HD=0.73) and showed a mixture of connectivity and divergence. Genetic relationships did not fit an isolation by geographic distance hypothesis, with some closely spaced populations being very different. Notably, the Flint River–Lake Huron spawning group was the most divergent, showing no genetic exchange. The Belle Isle and Fighting Island populations markedly differed, with the latter showing some genetic exchange with the Grosse Ile (Detroit River) and the Huron River (northwest Lake Erie) populations to the south. Walleye spawning at Fighting Island experienced no significant change in overall genetic diversity pre- versus post-habitat augmentation, but the allelic frequency changed. Our results comprise an important baseline for future population analyses and habitat assessment of these habitat augmentation areas. Despite habitat degradation and pollution, it appears that historic walleye spawning groups have persisted along the HEC, meriting continued genetic monitoring and further restoration efforts to conserve and enhance this important and diverse fishery.