Contemporary and historical river connectivity influence population structure in western brook lamprey in the Columbia River Basin

  • Erin K. Spice
  • Timothy A. Whitesel
  • Gregory S. Silver
  • Margaret F. DockerEmail author
Research Article


The western brook lamprey Lampetra richardsoni (WBL) is a small non-parasitic lamprey that inhabits rivers and streams from southern Alaska to northern California. WBL remain in fresh water throughout their entire life and show limited dispersal. Although adults may migrate short distances upstream to spawn, most movement likely occurs through passive drifting of larvae downstream. Genetic differentiation among populations is thus expected to be high, even within a single basin, but WBL population structure has received little attention. The present study examined population connectivity of WBL from 23 sites throughout the Columbia River Basin and coastal Washington, using eight microsatellite loci and cytochrome b sequence data. Although population structure generally corresponded to contemporary river connectivity, there were some cases where genetic patterns were better explained by historical connections. Microsatellite genetic differentiation among populations separated by < 570 km was moderate to high; FST values ranged from − 0.0026 to 0.7117 and averaged 0.2929. Tributary distance was the best predictor of FST, suggesting that most gene flow takes place in tributaries rather than through the mainstem of the Columbia River. As predicted, gene flow occurred primarily in a downstream direction, resulting in lower genetic diversity in upstream sites. WBL populations in these areas may be particularly vulnerable to local extinction. Therefore, whereas anadromous lamprey management efforts are focused on improving passage at mainstem dams, conservation of WBL will require protection of individual watersheds with particular emphasis on headwater areas.


Population structure River system Genetic diversity Glacial refugia Gene flow Non-migratory species 



We thank Jeff Jolley, Ralph Lampman, and Christina Wang for collecting and providing samples; Erin Butts and David Hines for GIS support; Colin Garroway for assistance with spatial analyses; Karen Bailey and Meagan Robidoux for technical assistance in the laboratory; Don Anglin for providing access to a previously unstudied area; and three reviewers from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for the helpful comments they provided on an earlier draft of this manuscript. Funding was provided by the USFWS and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada. Mention of trade names does not imply endorsement by the USFWS. The findings and conclusions in this manuscript are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the USFWS.

Supplementary material

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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada
  2. 2.Fisheries and Oceans CanadaWinnipegCanada
  3. 3.U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Columbia River Fish & Wildlife Conservation OfficeVancouverUSA
  4. 4.Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Laboratory and Environmental Assessment DivisionHillsboroUSA

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