Migration barriers protect indigenous brown trout (Salmo trutta) populations from introgression with stocked hatchery fish
Brown trout populations in the Belgian rivers Scheldt and Meuse have been intensively stocked in the past decades, often with material of uncertain origin. Moreover, the species habitat has become increasingly fragmented, preventing gene flow between neighboring populations. We assessed how this impacted genetic diversity and population structure by analyzing 12 wild populations (total n=309) and seven hatchery stocks (n=200) at the mitochondrial control region with SSCP and at 27 RAPD loci. Historical records indicate that brown trout from distant locations have been used to supplement hatchery stocks, nevertheless we detected non-Atlantic mitochondrial genomes in only one population of the Scheldt basin and in one hatchery. In general, the hatchery samples displayed a higher genetic diversity and differentiated less among each other (global FST(mtDNA)=0.311/FST(RAPD)=0.029) compared to the wild populations (global FST(mtDNA)=0.477/FST(RAPD)=0.204). This is due to frequent exchanges between hatcheries and regular supplementation from several indigenous populations. Gene pools present in most downstream sections from tributaries of the Meuse were similar to each other and to the hatchery samples, despite the presence of migration barriers. Assignment analyses indicated that the contribution of hatchery material to the upstream parts was limited or even completely absent in populations separated by a physical barrier. Intensive stocking and exchange between hatcheries has homogenized the downstream sections of the Meuse River, whereas the migration barriers preserved the indigenous upstream populations. As such, uncontrolled removal of barriers might result in an irreversible loss of the remnant indigenous gene pools.