Large pelagic fishes are generally thought to have little population genetic structuring based on their cosmopolitan distribution, large population sizes and high dispersal capacities. However, gene flow can be influenced by ecological (e.g. homing behaviour) and physical (e.g. present-day ocean currents, past changes in sea temperature and levels) factors.
In this regard, Atlantic bigeye tuna shows an interesting genetic structuring pattern with two highly divergent mitochondrial clades (Clades I and II), which are assumed to have been originated during the last Pleistocene glacial maxima. We assess genetic structure patterns of Atlantic bigeye tuna at the nuclear level, and compare them with mitochondrial evidence.
Results: We examined allele size variation of nine microsatellite loci in 380 individuals from the Gulf of Guinea, Canary, Azores, Canada, Indian Ocean, and Pacific Ocean. To investigate temporal stability of genetic structure, three Atlantic Ocean sites were re-sampled a second year.
Hierarchical AMOVA tests, RST pairwise comparisons, isolation by distance (Mantel) tests, Bayesian clustering analyses, and coalescence-based migration rate inferences supported unrestricted gene flow within the Atlantic Ocean at the nuclear level, and therefore interbreeding between individuals belonging to both mitochondrial clades. Moreover, departures from HWE in several loci were inferred for the samples of Guinea, and attributed to a Wahlund effect supporting the role of this region as a spawning and nursery area.
Our microsatellite data supported a single worldwide panmictic unit for bigeye tunas. Despite the strong Agulhas Current, immigration rates seem to be higher from the Atlantic Ocean into the Indo-Pacific Ocean, but the actual number of individuals moving per generation is relatively low compared to the large population sizes inhabiting each ocean basin.
Conclusions: Lack of congruence between mt and nuclear evidences, which is also found in other species, most likely reflects past events of isolation and secondary contact. Given the inferred relatively low number of immigrants per generation around the Cape of Good Hope, the proportions of the mitochondrial clades in the different oceans may keep stable, and it seems plausible that the presence of individuals belonging to the mt Clade I in the Atlantic Ocean may be due to extensive migrations that predated the last glaciation.
By Elena G Gonzalez, Peter Beerli and Rafael Zardoya