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:MFCav3 (2023)  -  DOI:

Mitochondrial haplotypes reveal low diversity and restricted connectivity of the critically endangered batoid population in a Marine Protected Area

Tanja N. Schwanck1, Lili F. Vizer1,2, James Thorburn3, Jane Dodd4, Peter J. Wright5, David W. Donnan6, Leslie R. Noble1,7, Catherine S. Jones1,*

1School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 2TZ, UK
2Department of Biology, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA
3Scottish Oceans Institute, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews KY16 9AJ, UK
4NatureScot, Cameron House, Oban PA34 4AE, UK
5Marine Scotland Science, Marine Laboratory, Aberdeen AB11 9DB, UK
6NatureScot, Battleby, Redgorton, Perth PH1 3EW, UK
7Faculty of Biosciences and Aquaculture, Nord University, Bodø 8049, Norway
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Stability and long-term persistence of a species rely heavily on its genetic diversity, which is closely allied to its capacity for adaptation. In threatened species, population connectivity can play a major role in maintaining that diversity, and genetic assessments of their populations can be crucial for the design of effective spatial conservation management. Not only is it worth evaluating the amount of diversity in a candidate population for protection, but the magnitude of outgoing gene flow can provide insight into its potential to replenish others via emigrants. The critically endangered flapper skate Dipturus intermedius receives protection in the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Scotland. However, there is insufficient knowledge of genetic diversity and connectivity across its range. Recent tagging studies in the MPA suggest the presence of animals with high levels of site fidelity and residency, as well as transient individuals, raising concerns of limited connectivity to populations beyond the MPA. In this study, a newly developed mitochondrial haplotype marker allowed use of DNA sourced from fin clips, mucus and egg cases to investigate population structure and mitochondrial variability across several sites around the British Isles, including the MPA. Unfortunately, results characterized the MPA as having particularly low haplotype diversity and significant population differentiation from other sample sites. More than a quarter of its individuals carry a haplotype rarely observed elsewhere, leaving outgoing gene flow questionable. The MPA appears unlikely to sustain the species’ existing mtDNA genetic diversity or act as an effective source population.

KEY WORDS: Conservation · Connectivity · Population genetics · MPA · Mitochondrial haplotypes · Endangered · Flapper skate · Batoid · Elasmobranch · Dipturus intermedius

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Cite this article as: Schwanck TN, Vizer LF, Thorburn J, Dodd J and others (2023) Mitochondrial haplotypes reveal low diversity and restricted connectivity of the critically endangered batoid population in a Marine Protected Area. Mar Ecol Prog Ser :MFCav3.

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