Behavioral, ecological, and fitness consequences of hybridization between native westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi) and nonnative rainbow trout (O. mykiss)
Muhlfeld, Clint Cain
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Anthropogenic hybridization is one of the greatest threats to global biodiversity. Hybridization and introgression may lead to a loss of locally adapted gene complexes and ecological adaptations in native populations, yet these potential consequences have not been fully evaluated in nature. I investigated factors influencing the spread of hybridization between native westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi) and nonnative rainbow trout (O. mykiss) in the upper Flathead River system, Montana (USA) and British Columbia (Canada). The fundamental questions of my dissertation were: what are the behavioral, ecological, and fitness consequences of hybridization and what factors influence successful invasion of hybrids? First, I assessed the patterns of spawning between parental species and their hybrids and found that hybridization alters the spawning behavior of migratory westslope cutthroat trout, and is spreading via long distance dispersal of hybrids from downstream sources and some temporal overlap during spawning. Second, I describe for the first time how a wide range of levels of nonnative admixture affect fitness of cutthroat trout in the wild by estimating reproductive success in a recently invaded stream using parentage analysis with multilocus microsatellite markers. Small amounts of hybridization markedly reduced reproductive success, with fitness exponentially declining by ~50% with 20% nonnative genetic admixture. Finally, I evaluated the association of local-habitat features, landscape characteristics, and biotic factors with the spread of hybridization in the system, and found that hybridization increases in streams with warmer water temperatures, high land use disturbance and close proximity to the source of hybridization; however, none of these factors appeared sufficient to prevent further spread. These combined results suggest that hybrids are not only genetically different than westslope cutthroat trout but also have reduced fitness and are ecologically different, and that hybridization is likely to continue to spread if hybrid populations with high amounts of rainbow trout admixture are not reduced or eliminated. I conclude that extant aboriginal cutthroat trout are at greater conservation risk due to hybridization than previously thought and policies that protect hybridized populations need reconsideration.