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BC research helping to characterize salmon’s ability to adapt to climate change

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By Milthon Lujan

Vancouver, Canada.- Wild Chinook salmon play a significant role in commercial, recreational and First Nations harvests. These harvests, however, have been decreasing due to warming waters and shifting population ranges- both results of climate change. Since the 1990s, declines in Pacific salmon populations has led to a reduction the total value of the commercial catch in BC from $263M to $24M.

With climate change, salmon are becoming mismatched to their existing environment. Management and industry need to adapt as it is expected that the abundant genotypes of the future will not be those most prevalent in BC today. There is a pressing need to identify what genes will help salmon adapt to climate change.

Genome BC is investing in research to identify whether and how salmon populations are undergoing genetic adaptation to environmental changes (‘evolutionary rescue’). This information will help to predict the fate of salmon species under alternative climate scenarios.

“The idea is to hunt for adaptive genetic variation in an important fish with the help of a convenient model fish, in this case threespine stickleback,” says Dr. Dolph Schluter, a Professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of British Columbia. “The two species have the same genes and the same long north-south distribution along the west coast, so we plan to compare changes in their genomes across latitudes.”

The team will use genomic tools and analysis of the stickleback to develop an inventory of adaptive genetic variation in wild Chinook salmon. This work will establish a much-needed baseline for tracking past and future genetic changes in Chinook salmon and other salmonid species. Their findings will be disseminated to end users and the data will be shared publically.

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“This atlas has great potential to aid genome-assisted improvement of salmon strains in BC and is the first instance using this adaptive genetic approach,” says Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sectors at Genome BC. “This investment will be extremely useful to commercial salmon producers to improve brood stocks and the baseline data will provide the foundation for future research and monitoring. It will also highlight the role genomics has in understanding how species adapt to a changing climate.”

This project, valued at close to $250,000 is funded through Genome BC’s Sector Innovation Program. For more information on Genome BC’s funding programs, visit www.genomebc.ca .

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