Genetic Status and Conservation of Westslope Cutthroat Trout in Glacier National Park

Clint C. Muhlfeld, Vincent S. D’Angelo, Christopher Downs, John Powell, Stephen Amish, Gordon Luikart, Ryan Kovach, Matthew Boyer, Steven Kalinowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Invasive hybridization is one of the greatest threats to the persistence of Westslope Cutthroat Trout Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi. Large protected areas, where nonhybridized populations are interconnected and express historical life history and genetic diversity, provide some of the last ecological and evolutionary strongholds for conserving this species. Here, we describe the genetic status and distribution of Westslope Cutthroat Trout throughout Glacier National Park, Montana. Admixture between Westslope Cutthroat Trout and introduced Rainbow Trout O. mykiss and Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout O. clarkii bouvieri was estimated by genotyping 1,622 fish collected at 115 sites distributed throughout the Columbia, Missouri, and South Saskatchewan River drainages. Currently, Westslope Cutthroat Trout occupy an estimated 1,465 km of stream habitat and 45 lakes (9,218 ha) in Glacier National Park. There was no evidence of introgression in samples from 32 sites along 587 km of stream length (40% of the stream kilometers currently occupied) and 17 lakes (2,555 ha; 46% of the lake area currently occupied). However, nearly all (97%) of the streams and lakes that were occupied by nonhybridized populations occurred in the Columbia River basin. Based on genetic status (nonnative genetic admixture ≤ 10%), 36 Westslope Cutthroat Trout populations occupying 821 km of stream and 5,482 ha of lakes were identified as “conservation populations.” Most of the conservation populations (N = 27; 736 km of stream habitat) occurred in the Columbia River basin, whereas only a few geographically restricted populations were found in the South Saskatchewan River (N = 7; 55 km) and Missouri River (N = 2; 30 km) basins. Westslope Cutthroat Trout appear to be at imminent risk of genomic extinction in the South Saskatchewan and Missouri River basins, whereas populations in the Columbia River basin are widely distributed and conservation efforts are actively addressing threats from hybridization and other stressors. A diverse set of pro-active management approaches will be required to conserve, protect, and restore Westslope Cutthroat Trout populations in Glacier National Park throughout the 21st century.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1093-1109
Number of pages17
JournalTransactions of the American Fisheries Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2 2016


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