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Open Access Research article

Relative role of life-history traits and historical factors in shaping genetic population structure of sardines (Sardina pilchardus)

Elena G Gonzalez* and Rafael Zardoya

Author Affiliations

Departamento de Biodiversidad y Biología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC, José Gutiérrez Abascal, 2; 28006 Madrid, Spain

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:197  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-197

Published: 22 October 2007

Abstract

Background

Marine pelagic fishes exhibit rather complex patterns of genetic differentiation, which are the result of both historical processes and present day gene flow. Comparative multi-locus analyses based on both nuclear and mitochondrial genetic markers are probably the most efficient and informative approach to discerning the relative role of historical events and life-history traits in shaping genetic heterogeneity. The European sardine (Sardina pilchardus) is a small pelagic fish with a relatively high migratory capability that is expected to show low levels of genetic differentiation among populations. Previous genetic studies based on meristic and mitochondrial control region haplotype frequency data supported the existence of two sardine subspecies (S. p. pilchardus and S. p. sardina).

Results

We investigated genetic structure of sardine among nine locations in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea using allelic size variation of eight specific microsatellite loci. Bayesian clustering and assignment tests, maximum likelihood estimates of migration rates, as well as classical genetic-variance-based methods (hierarchical AMOVA test and RST pairwise comparisons) supported a single evolutionary unit for sardines. These analyses only detected weak but significant genetic differentiation, which followed an isolation-by-distance pattern according to Mantel test.

Conclusion

We suggest that the discordant genetic structuring patterns inferred based on mitochondrial and microsatellite data might indicate that the two different classes of molecular markers may be reflecting different and complementary aspects of the evolutionary history of sardine. Mitochondrial data might be reflecting past isolation of sardine populations into two distinct groupings during Pleistocene whereas microsatellite data reveal the existence of present day gene flow among populations, and a pattern of isolation by distance.