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Population Structure of White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) in the Columbia River Inferred from Single-nucleotide Polymorphisms

Mar 2, 2023


White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) are the largest freshwater fish in North America, with reproducing populations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin, Fraser, and Columbia River Basins. Of these, the Columbia River is the largest, but it is also highly fragmented by hydroelectric dams, and many segments are characterized by declining abundance and persistent recruitment failure. Efforts to conserve and supplement these fish requires an understanding of their spatial genetic structure. Here, we assembled a large set of samples from throughout the Columbia River Basin, along with representative collections from adjacent basins, and genotyped them using a panel of 325 single-nucleotide markers. Results from individual- and group-based analyses of these data indicate that White Sturgeon in the uppermost Columbia River Basin, in the Kootenai and upper Snake Rivers, are the most distinct, while the remaining populations downstream in the basin can be described as a genetic gradient consistent with an isolation-by-distance effect. Notably, the population in the lowest reaches of the Columbia River is more distinct from the middle or upper reaches than from outside basins, and suggests historically a higher or more recent gene exchange through coastal routes than with populations in the interior Columbia Basin. Nonetheless, proximal reaches were generally only marginally or non-significantly divergent, suggesting that transplanting larvae or juveniles from nearby sources poses relatively little risk of outbreeding depression. Indeed, we inferred examples of dispersal between reaches via close-kin mark-recapture and genetic mark-recapture that indicate movement between nearby reaches is not unusual. Samples from the Kootenai and upper Snake Rivers exhibited notably lower genetic diversity than the remaining samples as a result of population bottlenecks, genetic drift, and/or historical divergence. Conservation actions, such as supplementation, are underway to maintain population viability and will require balanced efforts to increase demographic abundance while maintaining genetic diversity.


Stuart Willis, Blaine Parker, Andrea Schreier, Ray Beamesderfer, Donella Miller, Shawn Young, and Shawn Narum


Willis, S.C., B. Parker, A.D. Schreier, R. Beamesderfer, D. Miller, S. Young, and S.R. Narum. 2022. Population structure of White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) in the Columbia River inferred from single-nucleotide polymorphisms. Diversity 14(12):1045. Online at



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Journal Article