Original Paper

Marine Biology

, Volume 156, Issue 8, pp 1573-1583

First online:

Genetic diversity and population structure of the Chinese mitten crab Eriocheir sinensis in its native range

  • Liying SuiAffiliated withKey Laboratory of Marine Resources and Chemistry of Tianjin, College of Marine Science and Engineering, Tianjin University of Science and TechnologyLaboratory of Aquaculture and Artemia Reference Center, Ghent University
  • , Fumin ZhangAffiliated withState Key Laboratory of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, Institute of Botany, The Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • , Xiaomei WangAffiliated withKey Laboratory of Aqua-Ecology and Aquaculture, Tianjin Agricultural University
  • , Peter BossierAffiliated withLaboratory of Aquaculture and Artemia Reference Center, Ghent University
  • , Patrick SorgeloosAffiliated withLaboratory of Aquaculture and Artemia Reference Center, Ghent University
  • , Bernd HänflingAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, University of Hull Email author 

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The Chinese mitten crab Eriocheir sinensis is an indigenous and economically important species in China, but can also be found as invasive species in Europe and America. Mitten crabs have been exploited extensively as a food resource since the 1990s. Despite its ecological and economic importance, the genetic structure of native mitten crab populations is not well understood. In this paper, we investigated the genetic structure of mitten crab populations in China by screening samples from ten locations covering six river systems at six microsatellite loci. Our results provide further evidence that mitten crabs from the River Nanliujiang in Southern China are a genetically differentiated population within the native range of Eriocheir, and should be recognized as a separate taxonomic unit. In contrast, extremely low levels of genetic differentiation and no significant geographic population structure were found among the samples located north of the River Nanliujiang. Based on the reproductive biology of mitten crabs and the geography of their habitat we argue that both natural and human-mediated gene flow are unlikely to fully account for the similar allele frequency distributions at microsatellite loci. Large population sizes of mitten crabs suggest instead that a virtual absence of genetic drift and significant homoplasy of microsatellite alleles have contributed to the observed pattern. Furthermore, a coalescent-based maximum likelihood method indicated a more than two-fold lower effective population size of the Southern population compared to the Northern Group and low but significant levels of gene flow between both areas.