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Curr Biol. 2012 Jun 5;22(11):R439-40. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.04.053.

Population divergence in East African coelacanths.

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  • 1University of Bochum, Evolutionary Ecology and Biodiversity of Animals, Universitaetsstr. 150, D-44780 Bochum, Germany.


The coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae, occurs at the Eastern coast of Africa from South Africa up to Kenya. It is often referred to as a living fossil mainly because of its nearly unchanged morphology since the Middle Devonian. As it is a close relative to the last common ancestor of fish and tetrapods, molecular studies mostly focussed on their phylogenetic relationships. We now present a population genetic study based on 71 adults from the whole known range of the species. Despite an overall low genetic diversity, there is evidence for divergence of local populations. We assume that originally the coelacanths at the East African Coast derived from the Comoros population, but have since then diversified into additional independent populations: one in South Africa and another in Tanzania. Unexpectedly, we find a split of the Comoran coelacanths into two sympatric subpopulations. Despite its undeniably slow evolutionary rate, the coelacanth still diversifies and is therefore able to adapt to new environmental conditions.

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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