Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Genetic relationships between sympatric and allopatric Coregonus ciscoes in North and Central Europe

Mehner, Thomas; Palm, Stefan; Delling, Bo; Karjalainen, Juha; Kielpinska, Jolanta; Vogt, Asja; Freyhof, Joerg


Background Sympatric speciation along ecological gradients has been studied repeatedly, in particular in freshwater fishes. Rapid post-glacial ecological divergence has resulted in numerous endemic species or ecologically distinct populations in lakes of the temperate zones. Here, we focus on the Baltic cisco (Coregonus albula) complex, to study the genetic similarity among two pairs of sympatric autumn- and spring-spawning populations from post-glacial German Lakes Stechlin and Breiter Luzin. For comparison, we included a similar pair of sympatric populations from the Swedish Lake Fegen. We wanted to explore potential genetic similarities between the three sympatric cisco population pairs in the three lakes, to evaluate whether the pairs may have emerged independently in the three lakes, or whether two different species may have colonized all three lakes independently. Furthermore, we considered allopatric C. albula populations from three Polish, three Finnish, and four Swedish locations, added one Siberian population of the sister species C. sardinella and a Swedish C. maraena (whitefish) population. By genotyping nine microsatellite markers in 655 individuals from these 18 populations, we wanted to elucidate how strongly the cisco populations differ across a larger geographical area within Europe. Finally, we compared the genetic differences between the spring- and autumn-spawning populations of ciscoes in the two German lakes to infer the potentially deteriorating effect of strong anthropogenic pressure on the lakes. Results Dendrogram, Principal Coordinate Analysis and admixture analysis all indicated strong correspondence between population differentiation and geographical location for most cisco populations in Europe, including the Siberian population of C. sardinella. However, populations from some Swedish lakes deviated from this general pattern, by showing a distinct genetic structure. We found evidence for independent evolution of the three sympatric population pairs, because the populations co-occurring in the same lake were always most closely related. However, genetic differentiation was weak in the two German population pairs, but strong in the Swedish Lake Fegen, indicating that the weak differentiation in the German pairs reported earlier has eroded further. Conclusions Our results suggest that the genetic differentiation at neutral genetic markers among populations of the Baltic cisco complex has evolved (and is maintained) by random genetic drift in isolated populations. However, earlier studies on the Swedish populations combining mitochondrial DNA and microsatellite data indicate that also post-glacial immigration from separate glacial refugia has shaped the present genetic population structure. The low neutral differentiation of the German sympatric pairs in contrast to the Swedish pair suggests that recent anthropogenic effects on the lakes in Germany may put the endemic spring-spawners at risk to extinction.


Coregonus albula; Post-glacial divergence; Baltic cisco complex; Microsatellites; Species loss

Published in

BMC ecology and evolution
2021, Volume: 21, number: 1, article number: 186
Publisher: BMC

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Fish and Aquacultural Science

    Publication identifier


    Permanent link to this page (URI)