Rainbow trout conservation

Rainbow Trout are a north-temperate zone species native to freshwater habitats on the West Coast of North America. This species requires clean, cool water to thrive, but local human activities (e.g., land use change, pollution) and the effects of climate change are altering freshwater habitats and posing severe challenges for Rainbow Trout.

Trish Schulte

Hi my name is Trish Schulte and I'm a professor in the Department of Zoology and the Biodiversity Research Centre at UBC. At the moment one of the things I'm really excited about is a large multi-investigator project that I'm working on. It brings together a bunch of different faculty members and graduate students across different areas of biology and social science to address a really important question about how fish - and in this case specifically rainbow trout - respond to climate change and particularly to environmental stressors like increases in temperature and decreases in oxygen. Both of these things can be very dangerous for rainbow trout. If it gets too hot or if the oxygen gets too low they can die. And we want to understand how as our climate changes into the future we'll be able to better protect the rainbow trout that live here in British Columbia.

In this large multi-investigator project that's funded by Genome Canada and Genome BC, I'm the team leader so I bring together all of the different research groups. But my research group also has its own part to play, and our part is about looking at how variation in the genomes of of these fish, so differences in their DNA, affects how they do in response to a changing environment. So what are the differences in DNA that make some fish able to tolerate high temperature or low oxygen and other fish not be able to do it? Because if you think about it, every individual is genetically different and each of those genetic differences may play some role, and we're trying to figure out which ones are the important ones. And then we can ask across all of the rainbow trout in all of British Columbia, how many individuals do we have that seem to be this more resilient type, and how many do we have that are really at risk?

This helps us to set priorities for conservation and links together with all of the different things that all of the different people in the project are doing, everything from social science and ecology to cataloging the genomic variation across the entire species range from California all the way to Alaska. Putting all this together gives us a really integrated picture of how these fish are likely to do as our climate changes into the future.

Jared Grummer

My name is Jared Grummer. I am a postdoctoral researcher and I am advised by Rick Taylor and Michael Whitlock in the Biodiversity Research Centre at the University of British Columbia. The project that we're working on now I believe is titled "Sustaining Recreational Fisheries in a Changing Environment" and we're focused on rainbow trout. My role in the project is... there's five activities in the project, and I am the one who's leading most of the research and analyses in activity two, and this is kind of the field... a large field component of the project where we're actually collecting samples of rainbow trout from the wild to analyze their genetics and see signs of adaptation to the environment.

So for our field work, we had John Post and his lab group at the University of Calgary identify different climates within British Columbia, whether it was on average warmer or cooler, and from those models we identified populations that we thought would maybe be adapted to cool sites or warm sites, and from there we had to sample either lakes or rivers within the watershed that represented a gradient of cold to warm sites looking for adaptation to either cold or warm temperatures. So once we've identified these areas and sampled trout from these populations, we bring usually a fin clip is what we take from animals in the wild try to just release them back into the wild alive if we can, and from the fin clip in the lab we extract the DNA. Once the DNA is extracted we sequence that with genomic technologies to get a large portion of the genome data back and look for signatures of natural selection there.

Kai Chan

I'm Kai Chan and I'm a professor in the Institute for Resources Environment and Sustainability and at the Biodiversity Research Centre and I run Chan's Lab - the Connecting Human and Natural Systems lab. For the Genome BC project on rainbow trout, my lab contributes two major components. The first is understanding the cumulative impacts on rainbow trout, both wild and also stocked, so that's including a whole bunch of stressors coming off the land including warming temperatures, also agricultural chemicals, and land use change sedimentation, and changing food availability. And working on the social side with Harold Eyster who's a PhD candidate and also Paige Olmstead who's a postdoc, we found that people are really strongly motivated by relational considerations. So when you make trout not just a kind of amorphous species that is present across much of North America, but when you characterize the population as being one that is locally adapted or genetically distinct from other populations, it really helps people to connect to trout and also to be motivated to protect it, to protect those populations.

We also found that if you present the challenge of conserving rainbow trout in a way that identifies people's individual connections in the sense of having a responsibility through our impacts on the landscape, not only through our direct activities but also through the things that we buy that drives agricultural production and the extraction of mineral resources for example, that really helps people to be motivated to conserve. This project's pretty exciting because it spans the whole range from looking at the DNA of the fish, to how the fish do in their environment, to working with stakeholders like recreational fishers and conservation managers and Indigenous people and remote communities to think about how we can all work together to help protect these important fish.

This large collaborative project was made possible with funding from Genome Canada and Genome BC, and through a close partnership and collaboration with the Freshwater Fisheries Society of British Columbia. The Freshwater Fisheries Society operates the hatchery program for freshwater fish in British Columbia, and working with their hatchery personnel and scientists allowed us to do a project of a much larger scale and scope then would otherwise be possible. We look forward to the information from this project helping to preserve these fascinating fish into the future.


Check out more researchers