Comments: This highly variable species formerly was known as Salmo gairdneri, but this taxon is closely related to Pacific salmon and is conspecific with Asiatic steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss). For a complete taxonomic history, see Smith and Stearley (1989), Robins et al. (1991), and Behnke (1992).
"Redband" trout has been used as the name for nonanadromous populations adapted to harsh arid environments (Wishard et al. 1984); however, the term "redband" should not be used to imply a taxonomic relationship among all groups of rainbow trout in interior basins of Oregon and adjacent areas of Idaho, Nevada, and California (Wishard et al. 1984, Currens et al. 1990). Currens et al. (1990) found no evidence that all isolated groups of rainbow trout with plesiomorphic characteristics in the White River, Oregon desert basins, and northern California represent a monophyletic group.
Behnke (1992) included in O. mykiss three major groups: (1) the redband trout of the Columbia River basin east of the Cascade Mountains, and in upper Fraser River basin and the Athabasca headwaters of the Mackenzie River basin (subspecies gairdneri); (2) the redband trout of the Sacramento River basin, which he regarded as comprising two Kern River drainage subspecies (aguabonita and gilberti), plus the McCloud River subspecies (provisionally denoted as subspecies stonei); and (3) the coastal rainbow trout (nominal subspecies irideus of North America and mykiss of eastern Asia, though no known taxonomic characters separate mykiss from irideus). Behnke concluded that other forms, such as the redband trout native to Oregon desert basins, Upper Klamath Lake, the Pit River drainage, and Eagle Lake, California, cannot be consistently distinguished from the three groups listed above. He noted that their classification is a matter of personal preference and professional judgment. However, in the same publication, he stated that "the trout specialized for lacustrine conditions in Klamath Lake...is well differentiated from other groups of both redband and coastal rainbow trout and could be recognized as a subspecies, O. m. newberrii."
Hatchery rainbow trout derived mainly from coastal steelhead are widely stocked throughout the ranges of western trout (Behnke 1992). These hatchery fishes have led to hybridization with most populations of resident redband trout in the upper Sacramento River basin, the Oregon desert basins, and much of the Columbia River basin (Behnke 1992).
Oncorhynchus mykiss freely interbreeds with cutthroat trout (O. clarki) and Gila trout (O. gilae), producing fertile offspring (Sublette et al. 1990).