Human mining activity across the ages determines the genetic structure of modern brown trout (Salmo truttaL.) populations

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Humans have exploited the earth's metal resources for thousands of years leaving behind a legacy of toxic metal contamination and poor water quality. The southwest of England provides a well-defined example, with a rich history of metal mining dating to the Bronze Age. Mine water washout continues to negatively impact water quality across the region where brown trout (Salmo trutta L.) populations exist in both metal-impacted and relatively clean rivers. We used microsatellites to assess the genetic impact of mining practices on trout populations in this region. Our analyses demonstrated that metal-impacted trout populations have low genetic diversity and have experienced severe population declines. Metal-river trout populations are genetically distinct from clean-river populations, and also from one another, despite being geographically proximate. Using approximate Bayesian computation (ABC), we dated the origins of these genetic patterns to periods of intensive mining activity. The historical split of contemporary metal-impacted populations from clean-river fish dated to the Medieval period. Moreover, we observed two distinct genetic populations of trout within a single catchment and dated their divergence to the Industrial Revolution. Our investigation thus provides an evaluation of contemporary population genetics in showing how human-altered landscapes can change the genetic makeup of a species.

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