Strategies for Restoring River Ecosystems: Sources of Variability and Uncertainty in Natural and Managed Systems

7. Genetic Concepts and Uncertainties in Restoring Fish Populations and Species

R. R. Reisenbichler, F. M. Utter, and C. C. Krueger

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569469.ch7

Abstract.—Genetic considerations can be crucially important to the success of reintroductions of lotic species. Current paradigms for conservation and population genetics provide guidance for reducing uncertainties in genetic issues and for increasing the likelihood of achieving restoration. Effective restoration is facilitated through specific goals and objectives developed from the definition that a restored or healthy population is (i) genetically adapted to the local environment, (ii) self-sustaining at abundances consistent with the carrying capacity of the river system, (iii) genetically compatible with neighboring populations so that substantial out-breeding depression does not result from straying and interbreeding between populations, and (iv) sufficiently diverse genetically to accommodate environmental variability over many decades. Genetic principles reveal the importance of describing and adhering to the ancestral lineages for the species to be restored and enabling genetic processes to maintain diversity and fitness in the populations under restoration. Newly established populations should be protected from unnecessary human sources of mortality, gene flow from maladapted (e.g., hatchery) or exotic populations, and inadvertent selection by fisheries or other human activities. Such protection facilitates initial, rapid adaptation of the population to its environment and should enhance the chances for persistence. Various uncertainties about specific restoration actions must be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Such uncertainties include whether to allow natural colonization or to introduce fish, which populations are suitable as sources for reintroduction, appropriate levels of gene flow from other populations, appropriate levels of artificial production, appropriate minimum numbers of individuals released or maintained in the population, and the best developmental stages for releasing fish into the restored stream. Rigorous evaluation or experimental management is necessary to reduce uncertainty in our knowledge so that future conservation and restoration activities can be more effective.