, Volume 121, Issue 1, pp 11-21

Acanthochromis polyacanthus, a fish lacking larval dispersal, has genetically differentiated populations at local and regional scales on the Great Barrier Reef

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Abstract

Acanthochromis Gill is a monotypic genus within the damselfish family Pomacentridae, erected for an unusual species [A. polyacanthus (Bleeker)] that uniquely lacks larval dispersal. Instead, offspring are reared in the parental territory, in the manner of cichlids, and fledged into the surrounding habitat. Phenotypic and genotypic variation was surveyed on the basis of body colouration and 7 polymorphic loci in 19 populations from 5 regions of the central and southern Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Variation in both characters was found at regional and local scales. Two colour morphs were recognised: a bicoloured morph from the three northern regions and a uniform dark morph from the two southern regions. Isozyme analysis showed a similar pattern with greatest variation between the different morphs, but also with significant variation at both regional and local scales within morphotypes. Heterozygosity was maximal in the central populations, which, together with other measures of variability, suggests a mixing of separate gene pools in this region and denies species status to the two morphotypes despite numerous fixed differences in allele frequencies between the most distant populations. The presence of fixed differences in multiple alleles between populations separated by 1000 km indicates negligible gene flow over such distances and long isolation of these gene pools. These patterns may reflect recolonisation of the GBR after the last sea-level rise by fish from two stocks. Founder effects and random drift in small populations after colonisation are probably the major sources of the local and regional variations observed at smaller spatial scales. This diversity has been maintained among populations at all scales by the very low levels of gene flow possible without an effective strategy for larval dispersal between coral reefs.

Communicated by G. F. Humphrey, Sydney