Fish & Habitats– Genetics Program

Genetic diversity is essential for the continued existence and evolution of healthy fish populations. Genetic differences exist among populations within a species and reflect isolation from other populations and adaptations to local conditions (such as water temperatures, seasonal changes in water flow, available food and presence of predators). Genetic diversity provides the flexibility that allows a population to survive changing conditions — this is especially important when either natural or human-induced changes to climate, hydrology, habitat or community structure (including changes in competitors, predators or pathogens) occur. It is important to understand how genetic diversity is distributed within a species to adequately protect and manage these resources.


The Provincial Genetics Program is involved in several projects that use genetic techniques to describe diversity. These projects include:

  • Steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) genetic stock identification — Genetic markers are being developed to identify groups of summer-run and fall-run steelhead trout in the by-catch of commercial, aboriginal and sports fisheries. This allows us to determine when different populations are passing through the fishery and recommend changes to fishing plans if these populations are being over-exploited. e.g. Thompson River, Skeena River.
  • Bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) zoogeography and meta-population studies — Using genetic techniques, the major ancestral lines of bull trout in B.C. have been identified. The current location of their descendants indicates post-glacial dispersal routes. By combining similar information from both plant and animal species, important glacial refugia can be described and protected. The meta-population studies consider how genetic diversity is distributed within watersheds among mainstem rivers and their tributary streams. This information is used to determine levels of isolation and vulnerability of different populations to facilitate species protection in forests, mines and other land-use planning processes.
  • White sturgeon (Acipencer transmontanus) genetic diversity project — Similar to the bull trout studies, different genetic techniques are combined to identify major ancestral lines and distinct populations. This information is very important when developing recovery plans for populations that are no longer self-sustaining.

Other projects:

  • Okanagan Lake kokanee stock identification
  • Dolly Varden zoogeography
  • Coastal and westslope cutthroat trout genetic diversity
  • Hatchery rainbow trout broodstock evaluation

Reports and Articles

Taylor, E.B., S. Harvey, S. Pollard, and J. Volpe. 1997. Postglacial genetic differentiation of reproductive ecotypes of kokanee Oncorhynchus nerka in Okanagan Lake, British Columbia. Molecular Ecology 6:503-517

Taylor, E.B., S.M. Pollard and D. Louie. 1999. Zoogeography and evolution of bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) in northwestern North America: insights from mitochondrial DNA. Molecular Ecology 8:1156-1170.

Beacham, T.D., S. Pollard and Kkai D. Le. 1999. Population structure and stock identification of steelhead in southern British Columbia, Washington, and the Columbia River based on microsatellite DNA variation. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 128:1068-1084.

Related Links:

University of British Columbia — Dr. Eric Taylor

State of Alaska Dept. of Fish and Wildlife — genetics