Novel Insights Into the Genetic Population Connectivity of Transient Whale Sharks in Pacific Panama

Published on
22 October 2021

Novel Insights Into the Genetic Population Connectivity of Transient Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus) in Pacific Panama Provide Crucial Data for Conservation Efforts

Héctor M. Guzmán, Caitlin E. Beaver, Edgardo Díaz-Ferguson


The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is an endangered and highly migratory species, of which solitary individuals or aggregations are observed in oceans worldwide and for which conservation efforts are hindered by a lack of comprehensive data on genetic population connectivity. Tissue samples were collected from wandering whale sharks in Pacific Panama to determine genetic diversity, phylogeographic origin, and possible global and local connectivity patterns using a 700–800 bp fragment of the mitochondrial control region gene. Genetic diversity among samples was high, with five new haplotypes and nine polymorphic sites identified among the 15 sequences. Haplotype diversity (Hd = 0.83) and nucleotide diversity (π = 0.00516) were similar to those reported in other studies. Our sequences, in particular haplotypes PTY1 and PTY2, were similar to those previously reported in the Arabian Gulf and the Western Indian Ocean populations (a novel occurrence in the latter case). Haplotypes PTY3, PTY4, and PTY5 were similar to populations in Mexico and the Gulf of California. In contrast, the only populations to which our Panamanian sequences were genetically dissimilar were those from the Atlantic Ocean. The absence of reference sequences in GenBank from southern sites in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, such as Galapagos (Ecuador), Gorgona and Malpelo Islands (Colombia), and Coco Island (Costa Rica), reduced our capacity to genetically define regional patterns. Genetic differentiation and connectivity were also assessed using an analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA), which showed a similar population structure (five groups) to the neighbor-joining tree. Other population features based on neutrality tests, such as Tajima’s D and Fu’s Fs statistics, showed positive values for Panama of 0.79 and 1.61, respectively. Positive values of these statistics indicate a lack of evidence for population expansion among the sampled individuals. Our results agree with previous reports suggesting that whale sharks can travel over long distances and that transboundary conservation measures may be effective for species protection.

Front. Mar. Sci., DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2021.744109


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