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Contrasting Patterns of Sequence Variation in Steelhead Populations Reflect Distinct Evolutionary Processes

Jan 4, 2024


Multiple evolutionary processes influence genome-wide allele frequencies and quantifying effects of genetic drift, and multiple forms of selection remain challenging in natural populations. Here, we investigate variation at major effect loci in contrast to patterns of neutral drift across a wide collection of steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) populations that have declined in abundance due to anthropogenic impacts. Whole-genome resequencing of 74 populations of steelhead revealed genome-wide patterns (~8 million SNPs) consistent with expected neutral population structure. However, allelic variation at major effect loci associated with adult migration timing (chromosome 28: GREB1L/ROCK1) and age at maturity (chromosome 25: SIX6) reflected how selection has acted on phenotypic variation in contrast with neutral structure. Variation at major effect loci was influenced by evolutionary processes with differing signals between the strongly divergent Coastal and Inland lineages, while allele frequencies within and among populations within the Inland lineage have been driven by local natural selection as well as recent anthropogenic influences. Recent anthropogenic effects appeared to have influenced the frequency of major effect alleles including artificial selection for specific traits in hatchery stocks with subsequent gene flow into natural populations. Selection from environmental factors at various scales has also likely influenced variation for major effect alleles. These results reveal evolutionary mechanisms that influence allele frequencies at major effect loci that are critical for conservation of phenotypic traits and life history variation of this protected species.


Stuart Willis, Katharine Coykendall, Matthew Campbell, and Shawn Narum


Willis, S., D.K. Coykendall, M.R. Campbell, and S. Narum. 2024. Contrasting patterns of sequence variation in steelhead populations reflect distinct evolutionary processes. Evolutionary Applications 17(1):e13623. Online at



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Journal Article