• Characterizing the diet and population structure of lampreys Lethenteron spp. using molecular techniques

      Shink, Katie G.; López, Andrés; Murphy, James M. (2017-08)
      Lampreys contribute to the health of aquatic ecosystems and are targeted in both subsistence and commercial fisheries. Despite their ecological and commercial importance, the management and conservation of native lampreys have been largely overlooked. The goal of this study was to close current knowledge gaps of lamprey biology through the examination of Lethenteron spp. in Alaska. This study applied two molecular techniques, DNA metabarcoding and microsatellite genotyping, to (1) characterize the diet of marine-phase Arctic lamprey Lethenteron camtschaticum (N = 250) in the eastern Bering Sea and (2) investigate the population structure of larval lampreys Lethenteron spp. (N = 120) within and among three Yukon River tributaries. A combination of visual observations and DNA metabarcoding revealed the presence of diagnostic structures/tissues (i.e., eggs, fin[s], internal organs, otoliths, and vertebrae) and detected DNA sequences of ten ray-finned fishes in the diets of L. camtschaticum. The most frequent prey taxa were Pacific sand lance Ammodytes hexapterus, Pacific herring Clupea pallasii, gadids, and capelin Mallotus villosus. Five of the ten taxa identified in this study were reported for the first time as prey for L. camtschaticum. To investigate the genetic diversity of larval lampreys, a recognized knowledge gap for populations in Alaska, a total of 81 larval lampreys were successfully genotyped at all loci. Global FST of larvae was 0.074 (95% CI: 0.042 - 0.110), while pairwise FST values among the three localities examined ranged from 0.066 - 0.081. Hierarchical model-based Bayesian clustering analyses detected three genetic clusters (K = 3) among all larval lampreys and two genetic clusters (K = 2) among Chena River larvae; no further genetic clustering was identified within the remaining two tributaries. Estimates of contemporary gene flow indicated reciprocal migration among sites. The diet analyses indicated anadromous L. camtschaticum function as flesh-feeding predators that prey upon pelagic fishes in the eastern Bering Sea, while genetic analyses suggested that larval lamprey aggregations within three Yukon River tributaries exhibited higher levels of genetic diversity than are typically found among broad-ranging populations of anadromous lamprey species. Ultimately, this study highlighted the value of molecular techniques to improve our understanding of the biology of a poorly studied fish species in Alaska.