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Walleye family tree.

Walleyes are members of the perch family (Percidae) and are joined in the genus Sander by four other species. The river-dwelling sauger is the only other North American relative; these two species sometimes hybridize in nature and are crossed in hatcheries for stocking. Three other members of the genus inhabit parts of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East: the zander or European pikeperch, the Volga zander, and the sea pikeperch.

Zander are native to Eastern Europe including the Black and Caspian sea regions, but have been widely introduced west to Great Britain and south to Italy. The sea pikeperch is limited to areas around the Caspian Sea, while the Volga zander's distribution includes Adriatic and Black sea regions, from Austria east to Russia's Volga River. The Volga zander has been on the threatened species list since 2006.

By studying mitochondrial DNA, ichthyologists have come to the conclusion that the genus Sander originated in Europe, and the North American branch separated from the zander group some 10 million years ago. * It appears that members of the genus colonized North America via Beringia, a former land bridge across the Bering Sea, between 10 and 5 million years ago. That land bridge was inundated between 5 and 3 million years ago. DNA evidence suggests walleye and sauger separated genetically 3 to 4 million years in the past.


* Billington, N., P. D. Hebert, and R. D. Ward. 1990. Allozyme and mitochondrial DNA variation among three species of Stizostedion (Percidae): phylogenetic and zoogeographical implications. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 47:1093-1102.
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Title Annotation:Toothy Tidbits
Publication:Walleye In-Sider
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2009
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