There are at least three different kinds of short interspersed repetitive elements in salmonid genomes. Of these, members of the HpaI family are found to be most widely distributed in salmonid species. The HpaI family is present with high copy numbers in all members of the subfamily Salmoninae, such as salmon, trout and charr. In order to determine whether the amplification of the Hpa sequence occurred rapidly within a short evolutionary period or gradually, over the long term, a search was made for Hpa sequences in primitive salmonids; namely, grayling and whitefish. A grayling species has fivefold fewer copies of these sequences than the Salmoninae species, whereas several whitefish species have 200-fold to 20-fold fewer copies than the Salmoniae species. Characterization of the Hpa sequences in these species allowed us to recognize two distinct Hpa subfamilies on the basis of diagnostic substitutions as well as a new short interspersed element with an Hpa-related sequence. The distribution of these sequences revealed that distinct members of the HpaI or Hpa-related family were amplified during establishment of each subfamily lineage in a manner very similar to the amplification of the human Alu family. We provide evidence for the validity of a model that involves "multiple source genes" to explain diagnostic substitutions of the Hpa subfamilies and the timing of their appearance during evolution.