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Open Access Research article

Complex population genetic and demographic history of the Salangid, Neosalanx taihuensis, based on cytochrome b sequences

Liang Zhao134, Jie Zhang2, Zhijin Liu1, Stephan M Funk5, Fuwen Wei1, Muqi Xu1 and Ming Li1*

Author Affiliations

1 Key laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chaoyang, Beijing 100101, PR China

2 Key laboratory of zoological Evolution and Systematics, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chaoyang, Beijing 100101, PR China

3 Faculty of biology, Suzhou University, Suzhou, Anhui 234000, PR China

4 Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100039, PR China

5 Nature Heritage Ltd, London, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:201  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-201

Published: 14 July 2008



The Salangid icefish Neosalanx taihuensis (Salangidae) is an economically important fish, which is endemic to China, restricted to large freshwater systems (e.g. lakes, large rivers and estuaries) and typically exhibit low vagility. The continuous distribution ranges from the temperate region of the Huai and Yellow River basins to the subtropical region of the Pearl River basin. This wide ranging distribution makes the species an ideal model for the study of palaeoclimatic effects on population genetic structure and phylogeography. Here, we aim to analyze population genetic differentiation within and between river basins and demographic history in order to understand how this species responded to severe climatic oscillations, decline of the sea levels during the Pleistocene ice ages and tectonic activity.


We obtained the complete mtDNA cytochrome b sequences (1141 bp) of 354 individuals from 13 populations in the Pearl River, the Yangze River and the Huai River basin. Thirty-six haplotypes were detected. Haplotype frequency distributions were strongly skewed, with most haplotypes (n = 24) represented only in single samples each and thus restricted to a single population. The most common haplotype (H36) was found in 49.15% of all individuals. Analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) revealed a random pattern in the distribution of genetic diversity, which is inconsistent with contemporary hydrological structure. Significant levels of genetic subdivision were detected among populations within basins rather than between the three basins. Demographic analysis revealed that the population size in the Pearl River basin has remained relatively constant whereas the populations in the Yangze River and the Huai River basins expanded about 221 and 190 kyr ago, respectively, with the majority of mutations occurring after the last glacial maximum (LGM).


The observed complex genetic pattern of N. taihuensis is coherent with a scenario of multiple unrelated founding events by long-distance colonization and dispersal combined with contiguous population expansion and locally restricted gene flow. We also found that this species was likely severely impacted by past glaciations. More favourable climate and the formation of large suitable habitations together facilitated population expansion after the late Quaternary (especially the LGM). We proposed that all populations should be managed and conserved separately, especially for habitat protection.