Range Extension of Northern Form Dolly Varden (<i>Salvelinus malma malma</i>) to the Upper Arctic Red River Watershed, Northwest Territories, Canada

  • Kris W.C. Maier
  • Neil J. Mochnacz
  • Robert Bajno
  • Andrew J. Chapelsky
  • Peter Rodger
  • James D. Reist
Keywords: Gwich’in Settlement Area; Mackenzie River basin; morphology; mtDNA; range extension; special concern; Species at Risk; Tsiigehnjik


Northern form Dolly Varden is an anadromous char with significant ecological value found in high-gradient rivers of the Western Arctic. Because of declines in population abundance, Dolly Varden was recently designated as “Special Concern” under the federal Species at Risk Act. This species is also of great cultural and dietary significance to Indigenous Peoples of many communities in the Western Arctic; thus, expanding knowledge of the distribution, biology, and essential habitat is an important priority. We present results of a fisheries survey in the headwaters of the Arctic Red River, Northwest Territories, that focused on confirming the presence of Dolly Varden. Of 143 fish captured among 12 sampling locations, two were Arctic grayling (Thymallus arcticus), 33 were slimy sculpin (Cottus cognatus), and 108 were char identified using qualitative and quantitative morphological features. A subsample of 44 char voucher specimens were frozen whole and later identified using a linear discriminant function (LDF) based on meristic counts and morphological measurements, and a mitochondrial DNA genetic marker. LDF scores indicated that char collected in the Arctic Red River were northern form Dolly Varden. Genetic analysis showed that all but one char possessed mitochondrial DNA sequences common in northern form Dolly Varden from Canada. Our results confirm the presence of Dolly Varden in the Arctic Red River headwaters, extending the confirmed known distribution of this taxon in the Northwest Territories approximately 450 km south and 100 km east of previously delimited areas.