ESR 7:167-174 (2009)  -  doi:10.3354/esr00117

How many species of goliath grouper are there? Cryptic genetic divergence in a threatened marine fish and the resurrection of a geopolitical species

M. T. Craig1,*, R. T. Graham2, R. A. Torres3, J. R. Hyde4, M. O. Freitas5, B. P. Ferreira6, M. Hostim-Silva7, L. C. Gerhardinger8, A. A. Bertoncini9, D. R. Robertson10

1Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, PO Box 1346, Kaneohe, Hawaii 96744, USA
2Wildlife Conservation Society, Black Orchid Street, PO Box 37, Punta Gorda, Belize
3Laboratório de Genômica Evolutiva e Ambiental, Departamento de Zoologia, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE), Av. Prof. Moraes Rego, 1235-Cidade Universitária, Recife, Pernambuco 50670-420, Brazil
4Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NMFS, 8604 La Jolla Shores Dr., La Jolla, California 92037, USA
5Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz (UESC), Programa de Pós-Graduação em Sistemas Aquáticos Tropicais, Rodovia Ilhéus-Itabuna km 16, CP 110, Salobrinho, Ilhéus, Bahia 45650-000, Brazil
6Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (UEPE), Av. Prof. Moraes Rego, 1235-Cidade Universitária, Recife, Pernambuco 50740-550, Brazil
7Universidade do Vale do Itajaí (UNIVALI), CTTMar - Laboratório de Ciências Ambientais, Rua Uruguai 458, Centro Caixa Postal 360, Itajaí, Santa Catarina 88302-202, Brazil
8ECOMAR NGO, Multi-Institutional Program on Local Knowledge and Practices, Caravelas, Bahia, Brazil
9Universidade Federal de São Carlos (UFSCar), PPGERN, CxP.676 São Carlos, San Paulo 13565-905, Brazil
10Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Balboa, Republic of Panamá. Mailing address: STRI, Unit 0948, APO AA 34002, USA

ABSTRACT: The goliath grouper Epinephelus itajara (Epinephelidae) is an exceptionally large marine fish that inhabits sub-tropical and tropical waters of the Americas and western Africa. Due to a lack of readily observable morphological variation in specimens across its range, the goliath grouper has been regarded as a single species. We tested the hypothesis that Pacific and West Atlantic populations constitute a single species by analyzing nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequence data. We found numerous fixed genetic differences for mitochondrial loci between Pacific and West Atlantic goliath grouper (genetic distance D ≈ 3.5% at 16S and D ≈ 6% at cytochrome b; ϕst = 0.98 [p < 0.001] for 16S and ϕst = 0.98 [p < 0.001] for cytochrome b). The nuclear S7 intron showed 3 fixed nucleotide differences between Pacific and West Atlantic populations. Within the West Atlantic, we found few absolute genetic differences (D < 0.01 at 16S and D < 0.02 at cytochrome b), but statistically significant population structure based on haplotype frequency data (ϕst = 0.04 [p = 0.05] at 16S; ϕst = 0.14 [p < 0.001] at cytochrome b). These data indicate that (1) goliath grouper in the West Atlantic are subdivided into discrete populations, (2) goliath grouper populations in the Pacific and western Atlantic represent 2 (or more) distinct species, and (3) these distinct populations/species require separate management and conservation strategies. We resurrect the species Epinephelus quinquefasciatus (Bocourt 1868) for Pacific goliath grouper.


KEY WORDS: Epinephelus itajara · Epinephelus quinquefasciatus · Phylogeography · Epinephelidae


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Cite this article as: Craig MT, Graham RT, Torres RA, Hyde JR and others (2009) How many species of goliath grouper are there? Cryptic genetic divergence in a threatened marine fish and the resurrection of a geopolitical species. Endang Species Res 7:167-174

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