Molecular and morphological analyses of the cuttlefish Sepia apama indicate a complex population structure
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The giant Australian cuttlefish Sepia apama Gray, 1849 annually forms a massive and unique spawning aggregation in northern Spencer Gulf, South Australia, which has attracted commercial fishing interests in recent years. However, many basic life-history characteristics of S. apama are unknown, and anecdotal evidence suggests that there is more than one species. The present study assessed the population structure and species status of S. apama using data from allozyme electrophoresis, microsatellite loci, nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial COXIII gene, multivariate morphometrics and colour patterns. Analyses of allozyme and microsatellite allele frequencies revealed two very divergent but geographically separated populations consisting of specimens from the east coast and southern Australia. However, the presence of a heterozygote in a putative contact zone between the east coast and southern Australia suggested that these populations were not reproductively isolated. Mitochondrial haplotypes seem to have introgressed further north into the contact zone than have nuclear alleles. Differences in colour patterns that previously had been attributed anecdotally to different geographic populations were, in fact, correlated with sexual dimorphism. These data are most consistent with S. apama being one species the populations of which were geographically isolated in the past (historical vicariance) and have come into secondary contact. Comparison of microsatellite allele frequencies among four South Australian samples indicated significant deviations from panmixia. South Australian samples were also reliably diagnosed by means of multivariate morphometrics. Significant differences in mantle length were observed among populations.