Coral Reefs

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 277–288

Genetic structure of juvenile cohorts of bicolor damselfish (Stegastes partitus) along the Mesoamerican barrier reef: chaos through time

  • R. I. Hepburn
  • P. F. Sale
  • B. Dixon
  • Daniel D. Heath


Dispersal in marine systems is a critical component of the ecology, evolution, and conservation of such systems; however, estimating dispersal is logistically difficult, especially in coral reef fish. Juvenile bicolor damselfish (Stegastes partitus) were sampled at 13 sites along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS), the barrier reefs on the east coast of Central America extending from the Yucatan, Mexico to Honduras, to evaluate genetic structure among recently settled cohorts. Using genotype data at eight microsatellite loci genetic structure was estimated at large and small spatial scales using exact tests for allele frequency differences and hierarchical analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA). Isolation-by-distance models of divergence were assessed at both spatial scales. Results showed genetic homogeneity of recently settled S. partitus at large geographic scales with subtle, but significant, genetic structure at smaller geographic scales. Genetic temporal stability was tested for using archived juvenile S. partitus collected earlier in the same year (nine sites), and in the previous year (six sites). The temporal analyses indicated that allele frequency differences among sites were not generally conserved over time, nor were pairwise genetic distances correlated through time, indicative of temporal instability. These results indicate that S. partitus larvae undergo high levels of dispersal along the MBRS, and that the structure detected at smaller spatial scales is likely driven by stochastic effects on dispersal coupled with microgeographic effects. Temporal variation in juvenile cohort genetic signature may be a fundamental characteristic of connectivity patterns in coral reef fishes, with various species and populations differing only in the magnitude of that instability. Such a scenario provides a basis for the reconciliation of conflicting views regarding levels of genetic structuring in S. partitus and possibly other coral reef fish species.


Dispersal Coral reef fish Microsatellite Genetic structure Temporal Spatial 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. I. Hepburn
    • 1
    • 2
  • P. F. Sale
    • 1
    • 2
  • B. Dixon
    • 3
  • Daniel D. Heath
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Great Lakes Institute for Environmental ResearchUniversity of WindsorWindsorCanada
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of WindsorWindsorCanada
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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