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Genetic Basis of Adult Migration Timing in Anadromous Steelhead Discovered Through Multivariate Association Testing

May 31, 2016


Migration traits are presumed to be complex and to involve interaction among multiple genes. We used both univariate analyses and a multivariate random forest (RF) machine learning algorithm to conduct association mapping of 15 239 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) for adult migration-timing phenotype in steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Our study focused on a model natural population of steelhead that exhibits two distinct migration-timing life histories with high levels of admixture in nature. Neutral divergence was limited between fish exhibiting summer- and winter-run migration owing to high levels of interbreeding, but a univariate mixed linear model found three SNPs from a major effect gene to be significantly associated with migration timing (p<0.000005) that explained 46% of trait variation. Alignment to the annotated Salmo salar genome provided evidence that all three SNPs localize within a 46 kb region overlapping GREB1-like (an oestrogen target gene) on chromosome Ssa03. Additionally, multivariate analyses with RF identified that these three SNPs plus 15 additional SNPs explained up to 60% of trait variation. These candidate SNPs may provide the ability to predict adult migration timing of steelhead to facilitate conservation management of this species, and this study demonstrates the benefit of multivariate analyses for association studies.


Jon Hess, Joseph Zendt, Amanda Matala, and Shawn Narum


Hess, J.E., J.S. Zendt, A.R. Matala, and S.R. Narum. 2016. Genetic basis of adult migration timing in anadromous steelhead discovered through multivariate association testing. Proceedings of The Royal Society B 283(1830). Online at



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Journal Article