Population genetics of Australian white sharks

Published online on 30. May 2012

Population genetics of Australian white sharks reveals fine-scale spatial structure, transoceanic dispersal events and low effective population sizes

Dean C. Blower, John M. Pandolfi, Barry D. Bruce, Maria del C. Gomez-Cabrera and Jennifer R. Ovenden


Despite international protection of white sharks Carcharodon carcharias, important conservation parameters such as abundance, population structure and genetic diversity are largely unknown. The tissue of 97 predominately juvenile white sharks sampled from spatially distant eastern and southwestern Australian coastlines was sequenced for the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region and genotyped with 6 nuclear-encoded microsatellite loci. MtDNA population structure was found between the eastern and southwestern coasts (FST = 0.142, p < 0.0001), implying female reproductive philopatry. This concurs with recent satellite and acoustic tracking findings which suggest the sustained presence of discrete east coast nursery areas. Furthermore, population subdivision was found between the same regions with biparentally inherited microsatellite markers (FST = 0.009, p < 0.05), suggesting that males may also exhibit some degree of reproductive philopatry; 5 sharks captured along the east coast had mtDNA haplotypes that resembled western Indian Ocean sharks more closely than Australian/New Zealand sharks, suggesting that transoceanic dispersal, or migration resulting in breeding, may occur sporadically. Our most robust estimate of contemporary genetic effective population size was low and close to thresholds at which adaptive potential may be lost. For a variety of reasons, these contemporary estimates were at least 1, possibly 2, orders of magnitude below our historical effective size estimates. Population decline could expose these genetically isolated populations to detrimental genetic effects. Regional Australian white shark conservation management units should be implemented until genetic population structure, size and diversity can be investigated in more detail.

Mar Ecol Prog Ser 455:229-244



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