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Genetic Parentage Reveals the (Un)Natural History of Central Valley Hatchery Steelhead

Jun 7, 2024


Populations composed of individuals descended from multiple distinct genetic lineages often feature significant differences in phenotypic frequencies. We considered hatchery production of steelhead, the migratory anadromous form of the salmonid species Oncorhynchus mykiss, and investigated how differences among genetic lineages and environmental variation impacted life history traits. We genotyped 23,670 steelhead returning to the four California Central Valley hatcheries over 9 years from 2011 to 2019, confidently assigning parentage to 13,576 individuals to determine age and date of spawning and rates of iteroparity and repeat spawning within each year. We found steelhead from different genetic lineages showed significant differences in adult life history traits despite inhabiting similar environments. Differences between coastal and Central Valley steelhead lineages contributed to significant differences in age at return, timing of spawning, and rates of iteroparity among programs. In addition, adaptive genomic variation associated with life history development in this species varied among hatchery programs and was associated with the age of steelhead spawners only in the coastal lineage population. Environmental variation likely contributed to variations in phenotypic patterns observed over time, as our study period spanned both a marine heatwave and a serious drought in California. Our results highlight evidence of a strong genetic component underlying known phenotypic differences in life history traits between two steelhead lineages.


Laura Goetz, Hayley Nuetzel, David Vendrami, Anne Beulke, Eric Anderson, John Carlos Garza, and Devon Pearse


Goetz, L.C., H. Nuetzel, D.L.J. Vendrami, A.K. Beulke, E.C. Anderson, J.C. Garza, and D.E. Pearse. 2024.Genetic parentage reveals the (un)natural history of Central Valley hatchery steelhead. Evolutionary Applications 17(3):e13681. Online at



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Journal Article