There is a genetic difference between Pacific salmon that migrate from the ocean in the spring or summer to spawn and those that make the trip later in the fall, according to a recent study. The finding may have a big impact on conservation efforts along the West Coast.
Why it matters: Conservation groups have fought for the economically important and at-risk spring chinook and summer steelhead salmon populations on the Pacific Coast to be afforded protection under the Endangered Species Act. But that depends on whether they are considered genetically distinct and at risk of losing biodiversity and, until now, early migrators weren't confirmed to be unique from other groups of the fish. The technique could also be used to analyze other species of animals and plants that haven't been classified beyond the species level.
What they found: UC Davis researchers analyzed the DNA of early migrating salmon populations and found variation in a single gene is associated with early migration. Those mutations appear to have evolved only once, suggesting they "will not readily reevolve if lost," the researchers wrote.