Evidence of stable genetic structure across a remote island archipelago through self-recuitment in a widely dispersed coral reef fish
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We used microsatellite markers to assess the population genetic structure of the scribbled rabbitfish Siganus spinus in the western Pacific. This species is a culturally important food fish in the Mariana Archipelago and subject to high fishing pressure. Our primary hypothesis was to test whether the individuals resident in the southern Mariana Island chain were genetically distinct and hence should be managed as discrete stocks. In addition to spatial sampling of adults, newly-settled individuals were sampled on Guam over four recruitment events to assess the temporal stability of the observed spatial patterns, and evidence of self-recruitment. We found significant genetic structure in S. spinus across the western Pacific, with Bayesian analyses revealing three genetically distinct clusters: the southern Mariana Islands, east Micronesia, and the west Pacific; with the southern Mariana Islands being more strongly differentiated from the rest of the region. Analyses of temporal samples from Guam indicated the southern Mariana cluster was stable over time, with no genetic differentiation between adults versus recruits, or between samples collected across four separate recruitment events spanning 11 months. Subsequent assignment tests indicated seven recruits had self-recruited from within the Southern Mariana Islands population. Our results confirm the relative isolation of the southern Mariana Islands population and highlight how local processes can act to isolate populations that, by virtue of their broad-scale distribution, have been subject to traditionally high gene flows. Our results add to a growing consensus that self-recruitment is a highly significant influence on the population dynamics of tropical reef fish.
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