Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Spatial and temporal variation in population genetic structure of wild Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) across Africa

Etienne Bezault1234*, Patricia Balaresque56, Aboubacar Toguyeni7, Yves Fermon8, Hitoshi Araki4, Jean-François Baroiller1 and Xavier Rognon29

Author affiliations

1 UMR110 Cirad-Ifremer INTREPID, Montpellier, France

2 INRA, UMR1313 Génétique animale et biologie intégrative, Jouy-en-Josas, France

3 Division of Aquatic Ecology, Institute of Ecology & Evolution, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland

4 EAWAG, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Centre of Ecology, Evolution and Biogeochemistry, Department of Fish Ecology and Evolution, 6047 Kastanienbaum, Switzerland

5 Department of Genetics, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK

6 CNRS/FRE2960 Laboratoire AMIS (Anthropologie Moléculaire et Imagerie de Synthèse), Toulouse, France

7 Institut du Développement Rural, Université Polytechnique de Bobo-Dioulasso, Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso

8 18 rue J. Richepin, F-91120 Palaiseau, France

9 AgroParisTech, UMR1313 Génétique animale et biologie intégrative, Paris, France

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Citation and License

BMC Genetics 2011, 12:102  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-12-102

Published: 9 December 2011



Reconstructing the evolutionary history of a species is challenging. It often depends not only on the past biogeographic and climatic events but also the contemporary and ecological factors, such as current connectivity and habitat heterogeneity. In fact, these factors might interact with each other and shape the current species distribution. However, to what extent the current population genetic structure reflects the past and the contemporary factors is largely unknown. Here we investigated spatio-temporal genetic structures of Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) populations, across their natural distribution in Africa. While its large biogeographic distribution can cause genetic differentiation at the paleo-biogeographic scales, its restricted dispersal capacity might induce a strong genetic structure at micro-geographic scales.


Using nine microsatellite loci and 350 samples from ten natural populations, we found the highest genetic differentiation among the three ichthyofaunal provinces and regions (Ethiopian, Nilotic and Sudano-Sahelian) (RST = 0.38 - 0.69). This result suggests the predominant effect of paleo-geographic events at macro-geographic scale. In addition, intermediate divergences were found between rivers and lakes within the regions, presumably reflecting relatively recent interruptions of gene flow between hydrographic basins (RST = 0.24 - 0.32). The lowest differentiations were observed among connected populations within a basin (RST = 0.015 in the Volta basin). Comparison of temporal sample series revealed subtle changes in the gene pools in a few generations (F = 0 - 0.053). The estimated effective population sizes were 23 - 143 and the estimated migration rate was moderate (m ~ 0.094 - 0.097) in the Volta populations.


This study revealed clear hierarchical patterns of the population genetic structuring of O. niloticus in Africa. The effects of paleo-geographic and climatic events were predominant at macro-geographic scale, and the significant effect of geographic connectivity was detected at micro-geographic scale. The estimated effective population size, the moderate level of dispersal and the rapid temporal change in genetic composition might reflect a potential effect of life history strategy on population dynamics. This hypothesis deserves further investigation. The dynamic pattern revealed at micro-geographic and temporal scales appears important from a genetic resource management as well as from a biodiversity conservation point of view.