Low level of gene flow in Blacktip reef sharks accross Polynesian Archipelagos

Microsatellite Analyses of Blacktip Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) in a Fragmented Environment Show Structured Clusters



The population dynamics of shark species are generally poorly described because highly mobile marine life is challenging to investigate. Here we investigate the genetic population structure of the blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) in French Polynesia. Five demes were sampled from five islands with different inter-island distances (50–1500 km). Whether dispersal occurs between islands frequently enough to prevent moderate genetic structure is unknown. We used 11 microsatellites loci from 165 individuals and a strong genetic structure was found among demes with both F-statistics and Bayesian approaches. This differentiation is correlated with the geographic distance between islands. It is likely that the genetic structure seen is the result of all or some combination of the following: low gene flow, time since divergence, small effective population sizes, and the standard issues with the extent to which mutation models actually fit reality. We suggest low levels of gene flow as at least a partial explanation of the level of genetic structure seen among the sampled blacktip demes. This explanation is consistent with the ecological traits of blacktip reef sharks, and that the suitable habitat for blacktips in French Polynesia is highly fragmented. Evidence for spatial genetic structure of the blacktip demes we studied highlights that similar species may have populations with as yet undetected or underestimated structure. Shark biology and the market for their fins make them highly vulnerable and many species are in rapid decline. Our results add weight to the case that total bans on shark fishing are a better conservation approach for sharks than marine protected area networks.


Figure 1. Map of French Polynesia showing the 5 sample locations. Distances (in km) between the sample locations are shown in the matrix top right.


Figure 2. Bayesian approach results using the Discriminant Analysis of Principal Components to investigate genetic structure. The optimal number of principal components found for the analysis was 21 based on the trend in alpha scores (a). The BIC (Bayesian Information Criterion) values are shown in relation to the number of genetic clusters in (b). Each vertical bar represents an individual in the DAPC diagram (compoplot) shown as (c), and each color represents the probability of belonging to one of the genetic clusters. Some outliers have been noted on the top of the figure: M = male, F = female, followed by the total length of each shark in cm.

This study provides interesting additionnal informations to our previous paper in Molecular Ecology. Despite low levels of gene flow accross archipelagos (Figure 2 above), dispersal is likely made by males while at the same time some females could migrate for parturition accross islands (Mourier & Planes 2013).

The paper in Free-Access here:

PDF icon    Vignaud T, Clua E, Mourier J, Maynard J, Planes S (2013) Microsatellite Analyses of Blacktip Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) in a Fragmented Environment Show Structured Clusters. PLoS ONE 8(4): e61067.


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