Monday, 29 April 2013

Genetic study finds Ice Age salmon refuge

By Mark KinverEnvironment reporter, BBC News

An area of coastal waters around North-West France has been identified as a site for a previously unknown ice-free refuge for salmon during the Ice Age. 

Researchers said the isolated marine haven would help explain the "genetic mosaic" of British and Irish salmon. 

They added that fish from this refuge bred with fish from the Iberian peninsula as they migrated into UK waters as the ice receded. 

"There has been a lot of work done on terrestrial organisms and their refugia at the time of the last glacial maximum," explained co-author Jamie Stevens, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Exeter, UK. 

In their paper, the team of European researchers said that it was possible, as a result of genetic differences, to "trace the movement of (marine) species from refugial areas into previously glaciated regions". 

Atlantic salmon in detail 

· Scientific name: Salmo salar 

· Found throughout the North Atlantic region 

· After long migrations, the fish return to their natal river to spawn 

· Abundance of Atlantic Salmon has declined markedly since the 1970s 

· Increased mortality at sea appears to be a major factor in this decline 

· Other threats include river pollution, overfishing and dams 

(Source: IUCN Red List) 

They added: "For most European species, ancestry from the Pleistocene period can be traced back to one or more of the three main refugia in the Iberian, Italian or Balkan peninsulas. 

Unrecognised refuge 
However, they explained, that there was "no evidence for their extension into the Italian or Balkan regions at that time". 

"One of the key findings of this paper is that we can now explain the genetic mosaic of salmon in Britain and Ireland as being made up from fish that migrated in from the Iberian peninsula and a previously unrecognised refuge for salmon in North-West France," Dr Stevens observed. 

"What this evidence shows is that there was almost certainly a refuge in this big scour in the ocean at the western end of the English Channel, which is referred to as Hurd Deep. 

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