, Volume 11, Issue 6, pp 2267-2279
Date: 29 Jul 2010

Low genetic diversity and small long-term population sizes in the spring endemic watercress darter, Etheostoma nuchale

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Species endemic to coldwater springs in the southeastern United States are some of the rarest and most imperiled in this region, yet little is known about their genetic composition and conservation needs. Here, microsatellite based levels of genetic diversity and estimates of effective population size (N e) were compared between a narrow spring endemic fish, Etheostoma nuchale, and its widespread stream-dwelling relative, E. swaini. We applied several analytical methods to assess how demographic history is reflected in contemporary levels of genetic diversity for populations of E. nuchale. Phylogenetic analyses based on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data revealed a complex history among E. nuchale and E. swaini, but suggested ancient divergence and historic periods of isolation since colonization of spring habitats by E. nuchale. Populations of E. nuchale have levels of genetic diversity approximately one-half that of E. swaini, a result most likely due to founder effects and recent bottlenecks. Statistically significant F st values (0.05−0.27) and STRUCTURE analyses implied high levels of differentiation among E. nuchale populations. Estimates of current N e suggest relatively consistent levels across populations of E. nuchale, but one population may suffer from habitat degradation. We suggest that high levels of population structure and low levels of genetic diversity may be typical in other spring endemics inhabiting this region. Therefore, effective management planning for these unique species will require a detailed knowledge of the genetic and demographic history of each population.