Native Fishes Research Group at UBC


Department of Zoology

University of British Columbia

Vancouver, B.C.

***New Book by J.D. McPhail - Freshwater Fishes of British Columbia - available

now from University of Alberta Press!***

Click HERE for details


To faciliate the appreciation and conservation of native fish biodiversity in British Columbia through scientific research

Description and overall goals

The Native Fishes Research Group (NFRG) is a collection of individuals based primarily at the University of British Columbia committed to:

(i) obtaining an understanding of the origins and maintenance of native fish biodiversity in British Columbia through scientific research

(ii) applying this knowledge to help make rational conservation decisions for native fish

(iii) providing a research and education forum for issues relating to conservation of native B.C. fishes

(iv) providing independent opinions concerning native fish conservation that are based on scientific research.

The NFRG was conceived by J.D. McPhail and E.B. Taylor with the "Chonat Lake Charter" in 1998, but includes a much larger number of individuals with a diversity of research interests (see below) and represents an unofficial subcluster within the at the UBC Biodiversity Research Centre.

Why have a NFRG?

British Columbia is arguably Canada's most ecologically diverse province and contains about 70 native freshwater fish species. Although this is a lower number than other areas (e.g., Ontario has about 132 species), much of British Columbia's freshwater fish diversity is expressed below the species level or in biological species that have not yet been described taxonomically (i.e. two biological species with the same name).

Given the mountainous nature of much of B.C.'s geography and the fact that the province was glaciated most recently until about 10,000 years ago, the freshwaters of BC are an excellent place to study the roles of geographic isolation and adaptation to new environments in the origin and maintenance of species.

In addition, there are several endangered and threatened fish species in British Columbia freshwaters whose persistence will depend, in large part, on a better understanding of their evolutionary history and ecological, and habitat requirements. Consequently, it is hoped that research efforts of the NFRG will not only contribute to an understanding of how species adapt to their environment, but also to how new species arise - fundamental information for the conservation of fish biodiversity.

Resources of the NRFG

The major resource of the NFRG are the faculty members, graduate students, and affiliated biologists from government and industry with broad research and conservation experience on BC freshwater fishes. These individuals conduct field and laboratory-based research in fish ecology, evolution, genetics, biogeography, and conservation. Infrastructure associated with the NFRG includes experimental stream channels and rearing facilities, equipment for a broad range of field investigations, and a fully equipped molecular genetics laboratory. The NFRG also includes Canada's second largest collection of fish specimens (over 800,000) in the UBC Fish Museum and maintains an archive of over 5,000 individual DNA collections.

Fish identification course

Accurate identification of fish species is fundamental to basic and applied aspects of fish research and inventory activities in British Columbia. J.D. McPhail and E.B. Taylor are planning on offering a week long workshop style fish identification course. The course will provide background and instruction on biogeographic, morphological, and molecular genetic tools used to identify species of BC freshwater fishes. Participants will obtain "hand-on" experience in different techniques in fish identification, and have the opportunity to have sessions targeted to particularly problematic identifications in their own jurisdictions. The workshop will be designed for graduate students and working professionals in government and private industry, and will issue certificates of course completion to participants. The course will be held at the UBC Fish Museum and there will be a registration fee. For further information contact E. Taylor.

Some current projects

1. Genetic and ecological studies of speciation in benthic and limnetic species pairs of threespine sticklebacks (southwestern British Columbia (J.D. McPhail, D. Schluter, and E.B. Taylor, and students).

A limnetic stickleback from Enos Lake, SE Vancouver Island. Photo by E. Cooper.

2. Divergence of lake-stream pair of threespine sticklebacks (A. Hendry, J.D. McPhail, and E.B. Taylor)

3. Origins and persistence of genetic variation in coastal cutthroat trout (A. Costello and E.B. Taylor)

4. Molecular phylogeny and biogeography of native sculpins and dace (J.D. McPhail)

5. New book of the Freshwater Fishes of BC (JD McPhail - coming July 2007!)

A list of projects and contact information (January 2007) for research on native BC fishes can be viewed HERE.

A westslope cutthroat trout from the Wigwam River, East Kootenays, BC. Photo by E. Keeley.

6. A nested analysis of life history and molecular variation in rainbow trout (E. Keeley (Idaho State University), P. Tamkee, E. Parkinson (BC Ministry of Fisheries), and E.B. Taylor).

Representative publications of relevance to fish conservation


Biological invasions and exotic species

Volpe, J.P., Taylor, E.B., Rimmer, D.W., and Glickman, B.W. 2000. Evidence of natural reproduction of aquaculture-escaped Atlantic salmon in a coastal British Columbia river. Conservation Biology 14: 899-903.

Evolution of BC fish fauna

McPhail, J.D. and E.B. Taylor. 1999. Morphological and genetic variation in northwestern longnose suckers, Catostomus catostomus: the Salish sucker problem. Copeia 1999: 884-893.

Schluter, D. 1996. Ecological speciation in postglacial fishes. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B 351: 807-814.

Taylor, E.B. 1999. Species pairs of north temperate freshwater fishes: evolution, taxonomy, and conservation. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 9: 299-324.

Haas, G.R., and J.D. McPhail. 1991. The systematics and distributions of
Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma) and bull trout (S. confluentus) in North
America. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 48: 2191-2211.

Identification, distribution, and habitat of BC fish fauna

Haas, G.R. 2000. British Columbia's Freshwater Fish, Species, and Aquatic
Ecosystems are more at risk and less protected. In: The Proceedings of the
Conference on the "Biology and Management of Species and Habitats At Risk".
Crown Publications, Victoria, BC, Canada. [available from:]

Healey, M.C. 1991. The life history of chinook salmon. In: Pacific Salmon Life Histories. C. Groot and L. Margolis (eds). U.B.C. Press. pp 311-393.

Rosenfeld, J.S., Porter, M., and E.A. Parkinson. 2000. Habitat factors
affecting the abundance and distribution of juvenile cutthroat trout and
coho salmon. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 57: 1-8.

McPhail, J.D. and R. Carveth. 1999. Field Key to the Freshwater Fishes of British Columbia. Dept. Zoology, UBC. (Available from the Resource Inventory Committee, 840 Cormorant Street, Victoria, BC) or click HERE.

Rosenfeld, J.S, B. Wicks, M. Porter, and P. VanDishoek. 1998. Habitat Use
by chiselmouth (Acrocheilus alutaceus) in the Blackwater River. Prov. of BC
Fish. Proj. Rep. RD 76.

Ecological studies of BC fish fauna

Baxter, J.S., and J.D. McPhail. 1999. The influence of redd site
selection, groundwater upwelling, and over-winter incubation temperature on
survival of bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) from egg to alevin. Canadian Journal of Zoology 77:1233-1239.

Hinch, S.G. and P.S. Rand. 1998. Swim speeds and energy use of river migrating adult sockeye salmon: role of local environment and fish characteristics. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 55:1821-1831.

Keeley, E.R. Demographic responses to food and space competition by juvenile steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Ecology, in press.

Richardson, J.S., T.J. Lissimore, M.C. Healey, and T.G. Northcote. 2000. Fish communities of the lower Fraser River (Canada) and a 21-year contrast. Env. Biol. Fishes 59:125-140.

Soluk, D.A. and J.S. Richardson. 1997. The role of stoneflies in enhancing growth of trout: a test of the importance of predator-predator facilitation within a stream community. Oikos 80:214-219.

Young, K.A., S.G. Hinch and T.G. Northcote. 1999. Status of resident coastal cutthroat trout and their habitat twenty-five years after riparian logging. N. Amer. J. Fish. Manage. 19:901-911.

A coastrange sculpin, Cottus aleuticus (photo by E. Keeley)

Some of our research partners

Research partners of the NFRG include federal and provincial governments (e.g., Department of Fisheries and Oceans, BC Ministry of Fisheries, Yukon Department of Renewable Resources), academics at other universities (University of Victoria, Idaho State University), and private enterprise (various consultant companies). These partners provide a broader base of expertise, field assistance, and funding for a diversity of projects.

"Feature Fishes"

Most people in BC are aware of salmon and trout and their economic and cultural importance in our province, and considerable resources are expended to ensure their preservation. These fish, however, form only part of the freshwater fish diversity in British Columbia. There are lots of other species, many of which are found nowhere else in Canada. The singular nature of BC’s fish fauna has two principal causes. First, the major source of our fish fauna was the Columbia River; whereas, the
rest of Canada received most of its fish from the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Second, the postglacial geology and topography of the province provided unique opportunities for rapid genetic divergence and the evolution of new species. The result is a freshwater fish fauna unlike any other in Canada. This remarkable fauna is an important part of our natural heritage and, to increase public awareness of BC's other fishes, we have prepared a series of articles on "feature fishes". The "feature fish" will be changed as resources (primarily time) permit. The feature will include a photograph, key identifying features, notes on its life history and distribution and conservation issues. Our current featured fish is the speckled dace.

Past features fishes can be viewed HERE.

In addition, click HERE for some nice photographs and life history notes on some of our other freshwater fish species.

A Misty Lake male stickleback tending his nest. (Photo by A. Hendry)

Faculty and other researchers with links to the NFRG

James Baxter (Baxter Environmental, Nelson, BC)

Peter Corbett (Mirkwood Ecological Consultants, Inc., Winlaw, BC)

Scott G. Hinch (Forest Sciences, UBC)

Ernest R. Keeley (Idaho State University)

John S. Richardson (Forest Sciences, UBC)

Jordan S. Rosenfeld (BC Ministry Water, Land and Air Protection)

Dolph Schluter (Zoology, UBC)

Contacts, further information, and links

For further information about the NFRG or for assistance with any questions or concerns about native BC fishes, please contact E.B. Taylor (

Check out these other interesting sites:

UBC Biodiversity Research Centre and Lecture Series

BC Conservation Data Centre

Committee for the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)

The Atlantic Reference Centre (Fish Collection)

The Native Fish Conservancy

Canadian Conference for Fisheries Research

Vancouver Aquarium and Marine Science Centre

The North American Native Fishes Association


University of Alaska Museum

The Gilbert Ichthyological Society

Bull trout from the Thutade Lake watershed (upper Finlay River, photo by E. Keeley)

Problems with this page? Contact E. Taylor

Last updated: February 2010