Investigating population genetics of invasive rainbow smelt in the Great Lakes Region

Jamie A. Dobosenski, Jared L Strasburg, Wesley A. Larson, Thomas R. Hrabik

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Increasing our understanding of invasive species is important because of the negative impacts they can have on the economies and ecosystems of invaded regions. There is growing interest in how environmental variability (e.g. temperature) and stochastic invasion events (e.g. founder effects) affect the genetic composition of populations of invasive species. Rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax) are a cold-water, planktivorous fish that spread into the Great Lakes basin in the early 1900s. We performed genetic analyses using microsatellites (N = 10) to investigate the influence stochastic invasion events have had on the genetic composition of invasive rainbow smelt populations across a broad geographic range. Genetic analyses were conducted on rainbow smelt populations (N = 30/population) from Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and four inland lakes in Northern Wisconsin. Populations from the Great Lakes were generally less differentiated than inland populations. Additionally, we found evidence of a significant bottleneck in two inland populations and evidence for two distinct genetic strains of rainbow smelt in Lake Ontario. We also performed genetic analyses using microsatellites to determine if a thermally-induced extreme mortality event had an effect on a population of rainbow smelt and found that there was no measurable genetic effect on the population. Overall, this study provides evidence that the genetic structure and diversity of introduced populations can vary significantly, and are likely influenced by factors such as the frequency and magnitude of introductions. Also the resiliency of an invasive species can be high despite a history of bottlenecks and low genetic diversity.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)382-390
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Apr 2020


    • Founder effects
    • Invasive species
    • Microsatellites
    • Population genetics
    • Rainbow smelt
    • Thermal stress

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