, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 791-805

Genetic structure and signature of population decrease in the critically endangered freshwater cyprinid Chondrostoma lusitanicum

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The endemic and critically endangered cyprinid Chondrostoma lusitanicum has a very restricted distribution range. In order to estimate genetic diversity, characterize population structure and infer the demographic history, we examined six microsatellite loci and cytochrome b (mtDNA) sequences from samples taken throughout C. lusitanicum’s geographical range. Estimates of genetic diversity were low in all samples (average He < 0.35). The microsatellite data pointed to a major difference between northern (Samarra and Tejo drainages) and southern (Sado and Sines drainages) samples. This separation was not so clear with mtDNA, since one sample from the Tejo drainage grouped with the southern samples. This could be related with ancestral polymorphism or with admixture events between northern and southern sites during the late Pleistocene. Nevertheless, both markers indicate high levels of population differentiation in the north (for microsatellites F ST >  0.23; and for mtDNA ΦST > 0.74) and lower levels in the south (F ST < 0.05; ΦST < 0.40). With microsatellites we detected strong signals of a recent population decrease in effective size, by more than one order of magnitude, starting in the last centuries. This is consistent with field observations reporting a severe anthropogenic-driven population decline in the last decades. On the contrary mtDNA suggested a much older expansion. Overall, these results suggest that the distribution of genetic diversity in C. lusitanicum is the result of both ancient events related with drainage system formation, and recent human activities. The potential effect of population substructure generating genetic patterns similar to a population decrease is discussed, as well as the implications of these results for the conservation of C. lusitanicum.