OMNR Fish Genetics

OMNR Fish Genetic and Stock Assessment Unit

The Aquatic Biodiversity and Conservation Unit is part of the Aquatic Research and Development Section within OMNR, and is located at Trent University. The unit addresses a variety of applied and basic research issues, from monitoring genetic variation in hatchery broodstocks to assessing aquatic biodiversity across Ontario. Genetic work within the unit is pursued on two major inter-related fronts.

As well as addressing research questions related to biodiversity and conservation biology, the unit provides a support service to other branches of OMNR and outside interest groups by collecting and processing genetic information. Research questions typically involve the characterization of spatial patterning of genetic structure and diversity of target fish species.

Genetic research is largely focused on the following themes:

  • Phylogeography
  • Stock structure
  • Conservation genetics
  • Metapopulation dynamics
  • Historical demography
  • Anthropogenic influences on genetic biodiversity

Past projects have included geographic analysis of genetic variation in lake trout and walleye from across Ontario, as well as high-resolution analysis of genetic structure of native, stocked, and mixed-origin brook trout populations in Algonquin Park. Broad-scale phylogeographic studies of lake trout, arctic charr, and several percid species have highlighted the importance of historical events on the spatial structure of genetic biodiversity in these species.

Current projects range from applied stock structure analysis of Great Lakes species of commercial significance (lake trout, walleye, muskellunge, and brook trout) to analysis of metapopulation dynamics, habitat fragmentation, and conservation genetics of endangered species. Other projects are focusing on resident biodiversity of Ontario fishes and the effects that different human activities have on aquatic systems.

All of these efforts rely heavily on determining the genetic characteristics of populations and individuals, and relating these to spatial information. By merging population genetic tools with spatial analyses, we are working towards a “landscape genetics” approach to understanding the historical and environmental influences on spatial genetic structure and diversity of aquatic species.

Combined population- and individual-level approaches to spatial genetic structure using high-resolution genetic markers such as microsatellite DNA and mitochondrial DNA sequences are proving to be highly effective in resolving influences on spatial structure and diversity, as well as revealing some effects of human activities on the resident genetic biodiversity.

For more information contact Chris Wilson

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