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Mitochondrial DNA evidences reflect an incipient population structure in Atlantic goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara, Epinephelidae) in Brazil
Júnio S. Damasceno, Raquel Siccha-Ramirez, Millke J.A. Morales, Claudio Oliveira, Rodrigo A. Torres, Edvaldo N. Costa, Gláucia C. Silva-Oliveira, Marcelo Vallinoto, Leonardo F. Machado, Vander C. Tosta, Ana Paula C. Farro, Maurício Hostim-Silva

The Atlantic goliath grouper is a critically endangered species that inhabits estuarine and reef environments and is threatened primarily by fishing activities and habitat destruction. Despite the urgent need for protection, its genetic conservation status remains unknown. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the gene flow among the populations of the species along the coast of Brazil based on the control region of the mitochondrial DNA. The results indicate low haplotype diversity (0.40-0.86) and very low nucleotide diversity (0.1-0.5%). They also show that the genetic diversity of the species varies considerably along the coast and that this finding may be especially important for the identification of priority areas for its conservation. The population analyses indicate a low but significant degree of genetic structuring (ΦST =0.111), probably due to the occurrence of rare haplotypes at some locations, although the genetic differentiation between sites was not correlated with geographic distance (r=0.0501; p=0.7719), and the shared haplotypes indicate that gene flow occurs among all locations along the Brazilian coast. The results of the pairwise FST indicate a high degree of genetic differentiation between locations. The incipient population structuring detected in the present study is not related systematically to the geological or physical features of the Brazilian coast. The complex interaction of fluctuations in sea level, marine currents, and the reproductive characteristics of the species hampers the identification of the specific role of each of these processes in the gene flow dynamics of the population units of the Atlantic goliath grouper. The low overall levels of genetic diversity, the pairwise FST values and the significant population structuring among groups (ΦCT) identified in the present study all reinforce the critically endangered status of the species and are inconsistent with the presence of a single, panmictic population of groupers on the Brazilian coast. The results of this study suggest that, though it may be incipient, the observed genetic structuring must be taken into account in order to prevent potential problems, such as outbreeding depression, in the management of wild stocks.

Keywords: critically endangered species; gene flow; genetic diversity; marine fish; western Atlantic Ocean
Contents of this volume Sci. Mar. 79(4) : 419-429 Back PDF
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