Experimental test of genetic rescue in isolated populations of brook trout
Genetic rescue is an increasingly considered conservation measure to address genetic erosion associated with habitat loss and fragmentation. The resulting gene flow from facilitating migration may improve fitness and adaptive potential, but is not without risks (e.g., outbreeding depression). Here, we conducted a test of genetic rescue by translocating ten (five of each sex) brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) from a single source to four nearby and isolated stream populations. To control for the demographic contribution of translocated individuals, ten resident individuals (five of each sex) were removed from each recipient population. Prior to the introduction of translocated individuals, the two smallest above-barrier populations had substantially lower genetic diversity, and all populations had reduced effective number of breeders relative to adjacent below-barrier populations. In the first reproductive bout following translocation, 31 of 40 (78%) translocated individuals reproduced successfully. Translocated individuals contributed to more families than expected under random mating and generally produced larger full-sibling families. We observed relatively high (>20%) introgression in three of the four recipient populations. The translocations increased genetic diversity of recipient populations by 45% in allelic richness and 25% in expected heterozygosity. Additionally, strong evidence of hybrid vigour was observed through significantly larger body sizes of hybrid offspring relative to resident offspring in all recipient populations. Continued monitoring of these populations will test for negative fitness effects beyond the first generation. However, these results provide much-needed experimental data to inform the potential effectiveness of genetic rescue-motivated translocations.