Phylogeography and conservation of the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) inferred from mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA

Abstract

The bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) is a widely distributed, large coastal shark species known to travel long distances. These characteristics, coupled with the species’ long life span and late age of maturity, would lead one to predict significant global genetic exchange among bull shark populations. By contrast, data show localized depletion in some areas of large coastal shark fisheries, indicating some geographic isolation may exist. We examined genetic variation in the control region of mitochondrial DNA and at five nuclear microsatellite loci in bull sharks sampled from the western Atlantic to investigate the degree of population subdivision. The average per sample haplotype and nucleotide diversity in the mtDNA (0.51 ± 0.26 and 0.12% ± 0.12, respectively) and expected heterozygosity (0.84) in the microsatellite loci contrast sharply in having lower and higher values (respectively) relative to many other shark species. Significant structure exists between the Brazilian and all northern populations at the mtDNA control region (pairwise ΦST > 0.8, P < 0.001), but not at the nuclear microsatellite loci. Adjacent northern populations show weak to no genetic differentiation for both markers. These results are congruent with restricted maternal gene flow between populations caused by female site fidelity to nursery areas. We estimate the current effective population size to be around 160,000 and 221,000 individuals for the southern and northern Atlantic populations, respectively. The philopatric habits and the relatively low levels of mtDNA genetic diversity observed in bull sharks must be considered in the conservation of this species. Our results indicate that effective bull shark management strategies will require local, regional, and international attention and cooperation.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the major contributors to this study including the organizations and people that assisted collecting tissue samples: CSFOP observer coordinator A. Morgan and all the hardworking CSFOP fishery observers. We also thank those individuals who provided laboratory and data analysis assistance: A. Bass, C. Curtis, K. Gorospe, C. Puchulutegui, C. Rocha, and L. Rocha. Part of this work was carried out by using the resources of the Computational Biology Service Unit from Cornell University, which is partially funded by Microsoft Corporation. Two anonymous reviewers provided helpful suggestions that improved the manuscript. Much of the laboratory research was conducted in the Department of Biology, University of South Florida (Tampa, FL) in partial fulfillment of doctoral research of ALFC who was supported, in part, by CAPES Fellowship BEX 1277-02-2. Funding for this project also was provided by NSF grants DEB 98-06905 and DEB 03-21924 to SAK and National Marine Fisheries Service funding of the National Shark Research Consortium. This is SOEST contribution No. 8014 and HIMB contribution No. 1404.

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Karl, S.A., Castro, A.L.F., Lopez, J.A. et al. Phylogeography and conservation of the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) inferred from mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA. Conserv Genet 12, 371–382 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-010-0145-1

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Keywords

  • mtDNA control region
  • Microsatellite
  • Population structure
  • Philopatry