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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13839

Historic dispersal barriers determine genetic structure and connectivity in a sandy beach brooder

Karien Bezuidenhout*, Ronel Nel, David S. Schoeman, Lorenz Hauser

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The supralittoral zones of sandy beaches are particularly vulnerable to coastal development and other activities that cause localised habitat destruction. Supratidal species, such as peracarid crustaceans, which lack a pelagic larval phase and tend to avoid direct contact with the swash, are therefore expected to be distributed as isolated populations, with implications for their long-term survival. Genetic population structure of one such species, the pill bug Tylos capensis, was investigated based on mitochondrial COI haplotype sequences, to assess demographic history and regional population connectivity in the presence of potential dispersal barriers (an estuary, coastal cliffs) along the Indian Ocean coast of South Africa. Here, pill bugs demonstrated strong and significant genetic structure at regional scale, with three distinct clades across the species’ geographic distribution. At a localised spatial scale, coastal cliffs intersecting the high shore appeared to be a strong barrier to gene flow between adjacent populations, while a permanently open estuary did not limit gene flow. Estimates of historic gene flow and patterns of COI differentiation coincided with greater habitat continuity during the Pleistocene glaciations at sea levels between -75 and -120 m, when the African south coast was probably dominated by sandy beaches. While gene flow among low-dispersing pill bug populations is unlikely to benefit from a network of closely spaced coastal protected areas, the isolated nature of this species, coupled with the cryptic diversity inherent in this taxon, emphasizes the need for their protection. The importance of protecting the intact littoral active zone of beaches is highlighted.