Marine Biology

, Volume 159, Issue 3, pp 489–498 | Cite as

Population genetics of the nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) in the western Atlantic

  • Stephen A. KarlEmail author
  • Andrey L. F. Castro
  • Ricardo C. Garla
Original Paper


The nurse shark, Ginglymostoma cirratum, inhabits shallow, tropical, and subtropical waters in the Atlantic and the eastern Pacific. Unlike many other species of sharks, nurse sharks are remarkably sedentary. We assayed the mitochondrial control region and eight microsatellite loci from individuals collected primarily in the western Atlantic to estimate the degree of population subdivision. Two individuals from the eastern Atlantic and one from the Pacific coast of Panama also were genotyped. Overall, the mtDNA haplotype (h = 48 ± 5%) and nucleotide (π = 0.08 ± 0.06%) diversities were low. The microsatellite data mirror the mitochondrial results with the average number of alleles (\( \bar{N}_{A} \) = 9) and observed heterozygosity (\( \bar{H}_{O} \) = 0.58) both low. The low levels of diversity seen in both the mtDNA and the microsatellite may be due to historical sea level fluctuations and concomitant loss of shallow water habitat. Eight of the 10 pair-wise western Atlantic F ST estimates for mtDNA indicated significant genetic subdivision. Pair-wise F ST values for the microsatellite loci indicated a similar pattern as the mtDNA. The western Atlantic population of nurse sharks is genetically subdivided with the strongest separation seen between the offshore islands and mainland Brazil, likely due to deep water acting as a barrier to dispersal. The eastern and western Atlantic populations were closely related. The eastern Pacific individual is quite different from Atlantic individuals and may be a cryptic, sister species.


Mitochondrial Control Region Shark Species Whale Shark Lemon Shark Nurse Shark 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank D. Chapman, K. Feldheim, S. Gruber, E. Heist, L Rocha, R. Rosa, M. Shivji for providing samples and A. Bass, B. Bowen, C. Curtis, K. Gorospe, C. Puchulutegui, C. Rocha, L. Rocha, R. Toonen, and J. Zamzow for general assistance and helpful comments on the manuscript. Nurse shark samples from Atol das Rocas Marine Reserve and Fernando de Noronha National Park were collected during the 1999–2001 international cooperative program between the University of Miami and Universidade Federal da Paraíba for the study of the natural history of the lemon shark in the Atol das Rocas Marine Reserve and Fernando de Noronha National Park and Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico, CNPq. This study partially fulfilled the requirements for ALFC’s Ph.D. dissertation at University of South Florida and was supported, in part, by Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior Fellowship BEX 1277-02-2 to ALFC. Funding for this project also was provided by National Science Foundation grants DEB 03-21924 and OCE 06-27299 to SAK. This is the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology contribution No. 8503 and the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology contribution No. 1470.

Supplementary material

227_2011_1828_MOESM1_ESM.doc (234 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 234 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen A. Karl
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Andrey L. F. Castro
    • 1
    • 3
  • Ricardo C. Garla
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA
  2. 2.Hawai‘i Institute of Marine BiologyUniversity of Hawai‘iMānoa, Kāne`oheUSA
  3. 3.Departamento de ZootecniaUniversidade Federal de São João del ReiSão João Del ReiBrazil
  4. 4.Departamento de Botânica, Ecologia e Zoologia, Centro de BiociênciasUniversidade Federal do Rio Grande do NorteLagoa Nova, NatalBrazil

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