, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 683-693
Date: 04 Nov 2006

Genetic discrimination of middle Mississippi River Scaphirhynchus sturgeon into pallid, shovelnose, and putative hybrids with multiple microsatellite loci

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The pallid sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus albus), which is protected under the US endangered species act, and shovelnose sturgeon (S. platorhynchus), which is legally harvested in some locations, are sympatric throughout the range of pallid sturgeon. There is considerable morphological overlap between the species making discrimination problematic. The inability to reliably differentiate between species across all life stages has hampered pallid sturgeon recovery efforts. Furthermore, the two species are believed to hybridize. This study used allele frequency data at multiple microsatellite loci to perform Bayesian and likelihood-based assignment testing and morphological measures and meristics to discriminate pallid, shovelnose, and putative hybrid sturgeons from the middle Mississippi River. Bayesian model-based clustering of the genetic data indicated that two natural genetic units occur in the region. These units correspond to morphologically identified pallid and shovelnose sturgeon. Some individuals were morphologically intermediate and many of these failed to strongly assign genetically as either pallid or shovelnose sturgeon, suggesting they may be hybrids. These data indicate that pallid sturgeon and shovelnose sturgeon are genetically distinct in the middle Mississippi River (F ST = 0.036, P < 0.0001) and suggest that hybridization between pallid sturgeon and shovelnose sturgeon has occurred in this region with genetic distance estimates indicating the greatest distance is between pallid and shovelnose sturgeon, while hybrid sturgeon are intermediate but closer to shovelnose. This study demonstrates that assignment testing with multiple microsatellite markers can be successful at discriminating pallid sturgeon and shovelnose sturgeon, providing a valuable resource for pallid sturgeon recovery and conservation.