Testing advances in molecular discrimination among Chinook salmon life histories: evidence from a blind test

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The application of DNA-based markers toward the task of discriminating among alternate salmon runs has evolved in accordance with ongoing genomic developments and increasingly has enabled resolution of which genetic markers associate with important life-history differences. Accurate and efficient identification of the most likely origin for salmon encountered during ocean fisheries, or at salvage from fresh water diversion and monitoring facilities, has far-reaching consequences for improving measures for management, restoration and conservation. Near-real-time provision of high-resolution identity information enables prompt response to changes in encounter rates. We thus continue to develop new tools to provide the greatest statistical power for run identification. As a proof of concept for genetic identification improvements, we conducted simulation and blind tests for 623 known-origin Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) to compare and contrast the accuracy of different population sampling baselines and microsatellite loci panels. This test included 35 microsatellite loci (1266 alleles), some known to be associated with specific coding regions of functional significance, such as the circadian rhythm cryptochrome genes, and others not known to be associated with any functional importance. The identification of fall run with unprecedented accuracy was demonstrated. Overall, the top performing panel and baseline (HMSC21) were predicted to have a success rate of 98%, but the blind-test success rate was 84%. Findings for bias or non-bias are discussed to target primary areas for further research and resolution.

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