of Fisheries Biologists and a Remarkable Genetic History of Cutthroat Trout

Years ago we came across an article in the Lacrosse Tribune regarding a local Fisheries Biologist who was utilizing what were then deemed to be somewhat unorthodox methods for restoring native trout — yet his work yielded superlative results, and perhaps set a model for future biologists to come who are confronted with potential demise of a native strain of trout.

The article gave us notable encouragement and hope for what we were asking the State of Oregon to accomplish with this fledgling remnant of phenotypical Alvord cutthroat trout found in a small SE Oregon stream.

Dr. Behnke had originated the idea for these trout; to relocated trout with the outward characteristics of Alvord cutthroat trout to suitable stream habitat, targeting their original native range in SE Oregon and/or NW Nevada.

He acknowledged at that time, that perhaps the greatest challenge was that known suitable streams had already had introductions of other trout strains introduced to them; so finding suitable uninhabited streams would be a difficult challenge.

Yet the face of adversity and challenge is often what brings forth the truest champions of biologists and enthusiasts, who eventually do make a difference for all of us.

Hopefully the Lacrosse Tribune will continue to host this article for quite some time:



There is another article that we came across in Molecular Ecology (a scientific journal), (2012) doi: 10.1111 / mec.12028   It investigates the Yellowfin cutthroat trout along with other Colorado cutthroat trout strains.  It reveals a remarkable history of the relocation of cutthroat trout along both sides of the Continental Divide (fish propagation & stocking) and contains in-depth analysis of what historical DNA reveals about extinctions and invasions.

This report indicates that there may also have been another strain of cutthroat trout that once existed in Colorado — that is now also extinct.  Due to copyright restriction, this isn’t an article we can post for review, but we can share some of the interesting aspects of the article and the conclusions drawn from it and a few brief excerpts.  (Article info is below.)

The Abstract says: “Many species are threatened with extinction and efforts are underway worldwide to restore imperiled species to their native ranges.  Restoration requires knowledge of species’ historical diversity and distribution.  For some species, many populations were extirpated or individuals moved beyond their native range before native diversity and distribution were documented, resulting in a lack of accurate information for establishing restoration goals.”

(This all bears a striking resemblance to historical references to the relocation of Alvord cutthroat trout from their habitation in Trout Creek to a basin west of their home domain.)

The Abstract goes on: ” . . . traditional taxonomic assessments often failed to accurately capture phylogenetic diversity.”  As they outline their methodologies, they “. . . combined these data with phylogenetic analysis of 19th century samples from museums collected prior to trout stocking activities and contemporary DNA samples.”

Their study of the trout in the Southern Rockies “uncovered six divergent lineages, two of which went extinct, probably in the early 20th century.   A third lineage, previously declared extinct, was discovered surviving in a single stream outside of its native range.”

Their comparison of historical and modern distributions (stocking records) “revealed that the current distribution of trout largely reflects intensive stocking early in the late 19th and early 20th century from two phylogenetically and geographically distinct sources.”

This study was able to document “recent extinctions, undescribed lineages, and errors in taxonomy and dramatic range changes induced by human movement of fish.”  Where the Alvord cutthroat trout is concerned, we can only begin to guess at the probable movement of trout from their native domain — and the introduction of trout into their native domain.

Late in the article they state: “In some cases, taxonomic inference is fairly straightforward. The two haplotypes comprising the yellow lineage included the type specimen of O. c. macdonaldi, and thus most probably represents the Yellowfin cut­throat trout O. c. macdonaldi.  Moreover, the lack of modern samples representing the O. c. macdonaldi clade confirmed reports from the early twentieth century documenting its extinction (Wiltzius 1985).  Additionally, the phylogeography of the modern (see Pritchard et al. 2009) and historical data provide little doubt that O. c. virginalis, first described from the Rio Grande basin in 1853, is an evolutionarily distinct lineage.  Finally, the native to the San Juan drainage does not fall into one of the four named lineages (Fig. 4A) and appears to have also gone extinct since historical times.”

There are some very interesting conclusions derived from this study, and, for us; these should breath hope into the prospect of genetic analysis of the Hubbs & Miller Collection of pure Alvord cutthroat trout held at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

One final quote from this report: “In many cases, historical specimens exist in museums that are available for inferring native diversity and taxonomy.  With specimens collected up to 150 years ago, our study pushes back the age for recovering DNA from ethanol preserved specimens for population-level studies by over two-fold and demonstrates the feasibility of molecular mining of archived samples.”

May this remarkable study be an encouragement to scientists, biologists and native trout enthusiasts regarding our rare (or extinct) strains of trout.  It surely must be possible to utilize such methodologies and analysis where the populations of Alvord cutthroat trout are concerned.  Perhaps the mystery that still revolves around the origins of Alvord cutthroat trout (and their demise) may be resolved with sound understanding . . .

There could even yet be identification of other remnant populations.  Ultimately, may the restoration of the purest remnant forms of this extinct strain of trout yet be accomplished.

© Kortum of Discovery, March 2014

Excerpts from:

Molecular Ecology Historical stocking data and 19th century DNA reveal human-induced changes to native diversity and distribution of cutthroat trout © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd



*Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA, Australian Centre for

Ancient DNA, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Fish and

Wildlife Conservation Office, Estes Park, CO 80517, USA, §Aquatic Research Group, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Steamboat

Springs, CO 80477, USA, Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Biofrontiers Institute, University of Colorado,

Boulder, CO, USA, **Pisces Molecular, LLC, Boulder, CO 80301, USA


About kortumofdiscovery

Kortum of Discovery (a slight play on Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery) is a family team that is Affirming the Exceptional Beauty of Nature, one Adventure at a Time. With a focus toward rare and endangered species in the Great Basin and American west: discoveries, unique methodologies, and many “tall tales to tell” are continually being shared around the campfire!
This entry was posted in ***** Creek Sampling, Fisheries Biology and Genetics, Narratives, Observations, Of Fauna and Flora, Progress - Reply - Response - Status, The Word is Out. Bookmark the permalink.

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