Skip to main content

Conservation genetics of the tropical gar (Atractosteus tropicus, Lepisosteidae)


The tropical gar (Atractosteus tropicus) is the smallest member of the family Lepisosteidae; yet this species has a large socioeconomic impact in México and Central America where it is traditionally harvested commercially and for subsistence. While natural populations of tropical gar have been dwindling throughout its natural range, it is also an emergent aquaculture species that is produced in local hatcheries and grown out in privately owned ponds. The increased pressure on natural populations of A. tropicus and its increasing use in aquaculture production poses potential conflicts for the management and conservation of natural populations. Here, we investigated the population genetic structure of tropical gar populations, including over 200 individuals sampled in México, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. Using 11 microsatellite loci, we identified three genetic clusters with distinct geographic distributions, including a cluster in drainages along the Pacific versant of Central America, a cluster in the Grijalva and Usumacinta River basins that drain into the Gulf of México, and a cluster in the Río San Juan that drains into the Caribbean Sea. Given the degree of divergence observed, these results indicate the potential presence of evolutionary significant units within tropical gar that warrant separate fisheries and conservation management. We also found that tropical gar from an aquaculture facility along the Pacific versant of México were derived from Atlantic versant populations, indicating that individuals have already been translocated across biogeographic boundaries. We discuss how such translocations can negatively impact the natural population structure of tropical gar and provide recommendations for future research and aquaculture practices.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


Download references


Sampling of gar tissues was approved by collection permits in México (CONAPESCA: PRMN/DGOPA-012/2017), Guatemala (CONCYT: 02-2009), El Salvador (Republica de El Salvador en la América Central Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, AIMA-027-2011), and Costa Rica (Resolución N° 004-08-ACAH N-INV). Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation (IOS-1931657). This is publication number 1668 of the Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections at Texas A&M University.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



MPM, LAR, and MT conceived the study. MPM, LAR, MA, VR, EB, NH, DCMM, JBUR, and GMC conducted fieldwork and collected samples. MPM and GV conducted the laboratory work. MPM, LAR, and MT analyzed the data. MT made the figures and wrote the manuscript. All authors reviewed the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Lenin Arias-Rodriguez or Michael Tobler.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary Information

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary file1 (DOCX 144 KB)

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Palacios Mejia, M., Arias-Rodriguez, L., Arciniega, M. et al. Conservation genetics of the tropical gar (Atractosteus tropicus, Lepisosteidae). Conserv Genet (2023).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI:


  • Aquaculture
  • Conservation
  • Gar
  • Microsatellites
  • Population genetics
  • Population structure