Contrasting population genetic structure in three aggregating groupers (Percoidei: Epinephelidae) in the Indo-West Pacific: The importance of reproductive mode
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Background: Understanding the factors shaping population genetic structure is important for evolutionary considerations as well as for management and conservation. While studies have revealed the importance of palaeogeographic changes in shaping phylogeographic patterns in multiple marine fauna, the role of reproductive behaviour is rarely considered in reef fishes. We investigated the population genetics of three commercially important aggregating grouper species in the Indo-West Pacific, namely the camouflage grouper Epinephelus polyphekadion, the squaretail coral grouper Plectropomus areolatus, and the common coral trout P. leopardus, with similar life histories but distinct spatio-temporal characteristics in their patterns of forming spawning aggregations. Results: By examining their mitochondrial control region and 9-11 microsatellite markers, we found an overarching influence of palaeogeographic events in the population structure of all species, with genetic breaks largely coinciding with major biogeographic barriers. The divergence time of major lineages in these species coincide with the Pleistocene glaciations. Higher connectivity is evident in E. polyphekadion and P. areolatus that assemble in larger numbers at fewer spawning aggregations and in distinctive offshore locations than in P. leopardus which has multiple small, shelf platform aggregations. Conclusions: While palaeogeographic events played an important role in shaping the population structure of the target species, the disparity in population connectivity detected may be partly attributable to differences in their reproductive behaviour, highlighting the need for more investigations on this characteristic and the need to consider reproductive mode in studies of connectivity and population genetics.
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