Molecular genetic variation in tarpon ( Megalops atlanticus Valenciennes) in the northern Atlantic Ocean

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The tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) is a highly valued game fish and occasional food fish in the eastern and western Atlantic Ocean. Tarpon have a high capacity for dispersal, but some regional biological differences have been reported. In this study we used two molecular genetic techniques—protein electrophoresis of nuclear DNA loci, and restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)—to assess this species population genetic structure in the eastern (coastal waters off Gabon and Sierra Leone, Africa) and western (coastal waters off Florida, Caribbean Sea) Atlantic Ocean north of the equator. Genetic differentiation was observed between tarpon from Africa and tarpon from the western Atlantic Ocean. A unique allele and haplotype, significant differences in allozyme allele and mtDNA haplotype frequencies between the African and western Atlantic samples, and significant FST analyses suggest that levels of gene flow between tarpon from these two regions is low. Among the western Atlantic Ocean collections, genetic diversity values and allele and haplotype frequencies were similar. AMOVA analyses also showed a degree of genetic relatedness among most of the western Atlantic Ocean collections: however, some significant population structuring was detected in the allozyme data. A regional jackknifed FST analysis indicated the distinction of the Costa Rica population from the other western Atlantic populations and, in pairwise analyses, FST values tended to be higher (i.e., genetic relatedness was lower) when the Costa Rican sample was paired with any of the other western Atlantic samples. These data suggest that Costa Rican tarpon could be partially isolated from other western Atlantic tarpon populations. Ultimately, international cooperation will be essential in the management of this species in both the eastern and western Atlantic Ocean.

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