Additional Alvord Reintroduction Thoughts – Robert J. Behnke

Embedded below is an excellent letter from Dr. Robert J. Behnke to ODFW regarding the relict remnant of phenotypical Alvord cutthroat trout in ***** Creek of SE Oregon.

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The best advice I can give I borrow from Peter Larkin’s keynote address to AFS many years ago: “Simplify, simplify, simplify”.  The goal is to create a population of trout phenotypically representative of the extinct alvordensis by selecting specimens from ***** Creek that most closely resemble alvordensis.  These would be transplanted into presently fishless waters.  If all of the proposed actions, especially “genetic testing”, were attempted to be carried out with all of the associated planning and funding, I doubt the goal will ever be attained.  It’s human nature to put off until tomorrow what could and should be done today.  Accept that ***** Creek trout are not pure, but retain the hereditary basis to phenotypically duplicate alvordensis.  What can more and more genetic analysis tell us except that the present population is most likely the product of more than one parental population?  Most agency biologists and administrators have little more understanding than the general public about the advantages and limitations of different genetic techniques as they apply to specific situations.  Especially there is confusion and misunderstanding regarding the terms, “certainty, proof, and science”.  Attached are my comments on this matter concerning genetic misidentification of greenback cutthroat in Utah.  Anyone suggesting “genetic research” should make this based on knowledge, not on a naïve faith in a subject matter of which they have little or no understanding.  They should be able to frame “testable hypotheses” and how they would be tested.  The latest issue of TAFS: 139(1): 201-213, has an article on hybridization of redband trout based on “SNP”s.  What is a SNP? What situations should it be more informative than microsattelites?     The point is that “genetic research” can go on indefinitely because new techniques are continually being developed.  Genetic and other proposals to better characterize the ***** Creek trout can be done after a transplant is made.  There are no logical reasons that they should be a pre-requisite for a transplant.  Selection during spawning- taking has created phenotypic duplicates of Lahontan cutthroat in Heenan Lake, CA and of Yellowstone cutts in Henrys Lake, ID.  In both examples, a small degree of rainbow trout hybridization persists, but is not phenotypically expressed (looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck—call it a duck even if at the molecular level it may not be 100 percent pure duck).  I would not be concerned about impacts to the ***** Creek population from activities such as electrofishing.  In 2006 a 100 foot section in Post Meadow was shocked and produce 28 trout from 100 to 220 mm.  The surface area of the sampled section was no more than 0.01 acre and the biomass would have been more than 500 lb. per acre—a very robust population.  I reiterate what I have previously written—***** Creek did not have redband trout.  The overflow connection from the ***** basin to the Catlow basin occurred during an earlier period of Pleistocene before redband trout were in the Catlow basin.  Any O. mykiss DNA in ***** trout would be from the stocking of hatchery (coastal) rainbow in 1957,1962,1963,1964, and 1969.      Bob

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4 Responses to Additional Alvord Reintroduction Thoughts – Robert J. Behnke

  1. Pingback: Will We Bequeath a Living Legacy — or Only a Memory? | Alvord Cutthroat Trout — Phenotype       Remnant Rescue‎ | ‎Restoration Précis

  2. Pingback: A few Exigent Questions—in Pursuit of Apt Answers | Alvord Cutthroat Trout — Phenotype       Remnant Rescue‎ | ‎Restoration Précis

  3. Phill says:

    Science is science…. Studies showed, (before they were so bravely “re-discovered” and this after the release of Dr. Behnke’s report ) they were extinct, BUT in similar form hybrids are present in the ******. I am so very tired of reading web bloggers’ accounts of catching what they are so sure are the extinct species Alvordensis when what they are catching are the hybrids Dr. Behnke wrote about.

    • Hello Phill; Thank you for your comment regarding the remnant of alvordensis genetics found in ***** Creek. …Not quite sure what you mean “so very tired of reading web bloggers’ accounts of catching what they are so sure are the extinct species… when what they are catching are hybrids.” Are there sites claiming to be catching pure Alvords; or are they referring to phenotypical Alvords?

      Dr. Behnke writes: “The goal is to create a population of trout phenotypically representative of the extinct alvordensis by selecting specimens from **** Creek that most closely resemble alvordensis. These would be transplanted into presently fishless waters. If all the proposed actions, especially “genetic testing”, were attempted to be carried out with all of the associated planning and funding, I doubt the goal will ever be attained. It’s human nature to put off until tomorrow what could and should be done today. Accept that ***** Creek trout are not pure, but retain the hereditary basis to phenotypically duplicate alvordensis.” He goes on to reference Henry’s Lake, ID and Heenan Lake, CA stating: “In both examples, a small degree of rainbow trout hybridization persists, but is not phenotypically expressed (looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck — call it a duck even if at the molecular level it may not be 100 percent pure duck).”

      In order for the phenotypical expression to occur, there must be the genetics present that allow or cause that phenotypical (outward) set of characteristics to be manifested. Excitement about these phenotypical Alvords is caused by the fact that they manifest the outward expression as described by Hubbs’ (the original collector / identifier of alvordensis) in remarkable detail.

      A knowledgeable ichthyologist — in looking at many of these phenotypes — would feel that he or she was peering directly into history . . . and seeing something that “should” (by definition) no longer exist!

      You also should know that while genetic tests confirmed that there was hybridization of alvordensis found in Virgin Creek, NV in the mid-80’s (and again in 2000), it was actually clear back in the 70’s (after exploring Trout Creek & its environs) that Dr. Behnke first asserted that the Alvord cutthroat trout was extinct. That assertion was not based on genetics, but the physical phenotypical proof in Trout Creek (all of the trout that he captured clearly revealed rainbow appearance/dominance).

      And, even then, Dr. Behnke urged fishermen to explore the streams of the Alvord Basin, & region, in the hope that a remnant of unadulterated alvordensis would still be discovered — so this unique desert subspecies could, and would, be preserved for future generations to experience and enjoy.

      There are other analyses and conclusions that have been penned by Dr. Behnke regarding these phenotypical Alvord cutthroat trout found in ***** Creek.

      The reality is that this situation is merely the last best known hope and opportunity for preserving the characteristics — the phenotype — of the Alvord cutthroat trout, so that future generations may have a living remnant of trout that still reveal (express) the outward appearance of this trout that is considered to be extinct in its pure form . . .

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