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Mol Ecol. 2013 Jan;22(2):301-13. doi: 10.1111/mec.12128. Epub 2012 Nov 28.

Does mating behaviour affect connectivity in marine fishes? Comparative population genetics of two protogynous groupers (Family Serranidae).

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Center for Biosystematics and Biodiversity, Texas A&M University, TAMU 2258, College Station, TX 77843-2258, USA.


Pelagic larval duration (PLD) has been hypothesized to be the primary predictor of connectivity in marine fishes; however, few studies have examined the effects that adult reproductive behaviour may have on realized dispersal. We assessed gene flow (connectivity) by documenting variation in microsatellites and mitochondrial DNA sequences in two protogynous species of groupers, the aggregate spawning red hind, Epinephelus guttatus, and the single-male, harem-spawning coney, Cephalopholis fulva, to ask whether reproductive strategy affects connectivity. Samples of both species were obtained from waters off three islands (Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. Croix) in the Caribbean Sea. Despite the notion that aggregate spawning of red hind may facilitate larval retention, stronger signals of population structure were detected in the harem-spawning coney. Heterogeneity and/or inferred barriers, based on microsatellites, involved St. Croix (red hind and coney) and the west coast of Puerto Rico (coney). Heterogeneity and/or inferred barriers, based on mitochondrial DNA, involved St. Croix (coney only). Genetic divergence in both species was stronger for microsatellites than for mitochondrial DNA, suggesting sex-biased dispersal in both species. Long-term migration rates, based on microsatellites, indicated asymmetric gene flow for both species in the same direction as mean surface currents in the region. Red hind had higher levels of variation in microsatellites and lower levels of variation in mitochondrial DNA. Long-term effective size and effective number of breeders were greater for red hind; estimates of θ(f) , a proxy for long-term effective female size, were the same in both species. Patterns of gene flow in both species appear to stem in part from shared aspects of larval and adult biology, local bathymetry and surface current patterns. Differences in connectivity and levels of genetic variation between the species, however, likely stem from differences in behaviour related to reproductive strategy.

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