Lake Erie Center

Fishery Genetics Research at the Lake Erie Center

 

One of the primary problems facing conservation scientists and managers is how to delineate and conserve large and fine-scale population structure and genetic diversity levels of key native species in the face of exploitation, habitat degradation, and invasions by exotics.  Geographic, temporal, and reproductive isolation are the primary barriers that produce divergences among population groups, resulting in large to fine-scale patterns that emerge over evolutionary time. Anthropogenic activities often act to homogenize genetic divergence and diversity patterns, obscuring the historic record of linkages and isolation that have shaped our native populations.  Modern genetic tools, such as nuclear DNA microsatellites, offer high-resolution and low-cost approaches that can be readily applied for conserving genetic diversity and understanding its historic and present-day function in human-regulated ecosystems – and thus have high application to conservation management.
 
Our study objectives are to develop, analyze, and interpret high-resolution, low cost, and widely applicable DNA data bases for resolving spatial and temporal fish stock structure across the Great Lakes and beyond.  Our Great Lakes Genetic Laboratory is concentrating on conservation population genetic patterns in Walleye Sander vitreus (family Percidae), Yellow Perch Perca flavescens (family Percidae), and Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu (family Centrarchidae), which are the three most important exploited fisheries in the lower Great Lakes and are also important in the upper Great Lakes.  Their populations have been fluctuating since the 1980s, with Walleye declining by 60%. Genetic diversity may enable a species to withstand environmental perturbations, such as fishing pressure, habitat degradation, and competition from invading species – all of which pose serious issues in the Great Lakes and beyond, as detailed in our publications to date.

The Great Lakes Genetics/Genomics Laboratory is developing data bases of 15-20 nuclear microsatellite loci, mitochondrial DNA sequences (cytochrome b gene and control region), and nuclear intron sequences (e.g, S7, RAG1, and LdhA6) to analyze genetic variation patterns in Walleye, Yellow Perch, and Smallmouth Bass from key habitat and spawning areas across the Great Lakes.  We seek to understand whether spawning population groups are temporally (consistent from year to year) and spatially stable (maintain consistent patterns among locations). We now are analyzing historic scale samples (used for aging and saved by fishery agencies) from given spawning locations preserved during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s for comparisons with our existing 1990s-2000s data sets. The result will be large interactive data bases at low cost for use by fishery scientists and managers, allowing unknowns to be genetically typed.  This research has been funded to date by grant awards to Dr. Carol Stepien from NOAA Sea Grant, the USEPA, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, USDA, and the Lake Erie Protection Fund.  Members of our laboratory working on this overall research problem include Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Amanda Haponski (Walleye), Ph.D. candidate Lindsey Pierce (VHS), and DNA technician Shane Yerga-Woolwine.

Field samples have been and are being obtained from collaborating management agencies, through their mark-and-recapture and population monitoring programs.  Participating and contributing agencies include the USEPA, US Geological Survey, the USFWS, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Despite the detection of stock structure by scattered genetic investigations using various techniques, fishery scientists today remain hampered by the lack of integration, a common large baseline data set, and a set of standard analysis tools – which are being provided by our studies.  We thus are developing high-resolution, low cost, and widely applicable DNA databases for use by researchers and conservation managers to delineate essential areas for preserving native genetic diversity.



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Map 1.  Lake Erie sampling locations and primary genetic barriers for Walleye, Smallmouth Bass, Yellow Perch, and Round Goby.  This map is interactive - selecting a point will show the genetic information for those samples.
Click to download a kml file of the map shown above.


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Map 2.  Lake Erie sampling locations and primary genetic barriers for Walleye based on 10 microsatellite loci for 787 individuals.  This map is interactive - selecting a point will show the genetic information for those samples.
Click to download a kml file of the map shown above.


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Map 3.  Lake Erie sampling locations and primary genetic barriers for Smallmouth Bass based on 8 microsatellite loci for 425 individuals.  This map is interactive - selecting a point will show the genetic information for those samples.
Click to download a kml file of the map shown above.


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Map 4.  Lake Erie sampling locations and primary genetic barriers for Yellow Perch based on 14 microsatellite loci for 507 individuals.  This map is interactive - selecting a point will show the genetic information for those samples.
Click to download a kml file of the map shown above.


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Map 5.  Lake Erie sampling locations and primary genetic barriers for Round Goby based on 8 microsatellite loci for 368 individuals.  This map is interactive - selecting a point will show the genetic information for those samples.>
Click to download a kml file of the map shown above.

Last Updated: 3/23/15