Brook trout are an important native part of the Great Lakes fish community and prized in the recreational fishery. Recent surveys of United States tributaries in the Lake Superior basin, however, indicate that brook trout are absent from over 30% of previously inhabited catchments. Brook trout in the Lake Superior basin are present in two life history forms–an endemic life history form of brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) known as coaster, as well as a stream resident form. The coaster was historically incredibly popular with recreational anglers due to their large body size, but unregulated fishing effort and poor land use practices resulted in the extirpation of most coaster populations by the early 1900s.
Today, coaster brook trout and stream-residents face increasing contemporary threats including habitat loss and a changing global climate.
Given their ecological and social importance, there is much interest in restoring and protecting both coaster and resident brook trout populations. Management strategies that incorporate information on genomic variation are necessary for prioritizing populations for management intervention, mitigating factors negatively impacting genomic diversity, and conserving the adaptive potential of brook trout.
In the Meek lab, we are addressing these knowledge gaps by investigating spatial patterns of neutral and adaptive genomic variation, determining the genetic basis for the coaster life history, identifying environmental and ecological variables influencing genomic variation, and assessing the genomic impact of supplementing wild populations with hatchery-reared fish.
This work is part of a collaborative project with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and will improve management and conservation efforts for brook trout and other closely related species within and outside of the Lake Superior basin.