Mechanisms of rainbow trout hybridization with native cutthroat trout in the Lamar River of Yellowstone National Park

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Invasive hybridization--when invasive species interbreed with native species--is a pervasive conservation issue. Hybridization presents difficult management decisions and poses complex problems at the intersection of contemporary evolution, invasion biology, physiology, and landscape ecology. I examined the invasion scenario playing out in the Lamar River watershed of Yellowstone National Park where native Yellowstone cutthroat trout (YCT) are undergoing hybridization with introduced rainbow trout (RT). I first test the hypothesis that a breeding timing mismatch of an invasive species (i.e., RT often spawn far earlier than YCT, and eggs are scoured by snowmelt runoff) can be overcome by hybridization with a locally adapted native species, that spawn later (Chapter 2). I found support for this hypothesis. Spawning timing was strongly related to the degree of non-native admixture at the individual level, indicating that hybridization alters breeding timing in ways that could benefit hybrids. At the population level, hybrid spawning timing closely matched that of native taxa and was strongly correlated to stream flow conditions. Overall, these data suggest poorly matched spawning timing is unlikely to serve as a strong mechanism limiting invasive hybridization of YCT. Next, I mapped the spatial distribution of hybridization in the Lamar River watershed (Chapter 3). Many non-hybridized populations persist in the upper watershed, whereas a prominent source of RT in the lower watershed has likely contributed inordinately to the spread of introgression. Because hybridized populations occurred across a full range of environmental conditions, I do not predict that abiotic conditions (i.e., cold water, late-stream flow, high elevations, or small stream size) will prevent the spread of hybridization in the long-term. As such, management interventions are recommended in chapter 4 and 5. I developed a simple taxonomic key to identify hybrids and guide selective removal efforts (Chapter 4). Additionally, I used volunteer angler surveys to estimate that recreational anglers visiting the watershed (~10,000 per year) could likely harvest a substantial number of non-native trout that would contribute to genetic management goals. I conclude by providing recommendations for management and monitoring (Chapter 5).




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