A new study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder indicates biologists trying to save Colorado's native greenback cutthroat trout from extinction over the past several decades through hatchery propagation and restocking efforts have, in most cases, inadvertently restored the wrong fish.
According to a sophisticated DNA analysis, five of nine "relic" populations of what biologists believed to be greenback cutthroat trout living in isolated pockets of the state actually are Colorado River cutthroat trout, a closely related subspecies, said lead author Jessica Metcalf, a researcher in CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department. Eggs and sperm from the trout populations have been used for the last several decades to rear new generations in hatcheries, allowing state biologists to restock parts of Colorado with what they thought were greenback cutthroats, she said.
The new study, which included sequencing and analyzing mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, showed the majority of the greenback populations had been misidentified, and that the greenback cutthroat trout range is now restricted to just 11 miles of streams in several remote areas of Colorado. The paper was published in the Aug. 28 online edition of the journal Molecular Ecology.
The misidentification likely was caused by the stocking of fish in the late 1800s and early 1900s when railroads delivered hundreds of thousands of baby trout around the state of various species and subspecies for people to stock in local waters, said Metcalf. "This illustrates the need for biologists to consider that the species may have been introduced by the industriousness of humans before the documentation of the native flora and fauna of the area was recorded," she said.
Co-authors on the study included Professor Andrew Martin and undergraduate student Jazzmin Jenkins of CU-Boulder, Victoria Pritchard and David Cowley of New Mexico State University, Sarah Silvestri
|Contact: Jessica Metcalf|
University of Colorado at Boulder