Influence of the Benguela Current in genetic sub-structuring of commercially exploited fish species

Romina Novo Henriques

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Oceanographic features such as currents, fronts and upwelling cells have been recognised as possible factors driving population differentiation within species. The Benguela Current is one of the oldest upwelling systems in the world, located off the west coast of Southern Africa, and represents a biogeographical boundary between the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific Oceans. Previous studies have reported the influence of this system in isolating several marine taxa between the two oceans. However, few have been conducted within the Benguela Current boundaries, in order to understand its role in shaping population genetic structure of fish species at a regional level. The present study documents the influence of the Benguela Current oceanographic features on the genetic differentiation, population connectivity and evolutionary history of five coastal fish species (Diplodus capensis, Argyrosomus inodorus, Argyrosomus coronus, Atractoscion aequidens and Lichia amia), and one oceanic pelagic fish species (Thunnus albacares). Results for both mitochondrial and nuclear marker variation in all coastal species revealed a similar geographical pattern of population genetic structuring despite distinct differences in life history features. The oceanic species exhibited shallow population differentiation between Atlantic and Indian Oceans. For coastal species, different depths of differentiation were observed, ranging from speciation events (A. aequidens, A. coronus and A. japonicus) to shallow structuring (A. inodorus and T. albacares). Furthermore, in these cases, population structures were coincident with the Benguela Current oceanographic features, suggesting that the system may represent a vicariant barrier to dispersal of coastal fish species. Congruence between mitochondrial and nuclear markers suggests that population isolation was not a single historical event, but has persisted over large timescales and is still active. The existence of cryptic speciation events, and the high levels of genetic diversity and differentiation documented make the Benguela Current a natural laboratory to study evolutionary mechanisms shaping biodiversity and genetic population structure of marine fish species.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Shaw, Paul, Supervisor
  • Barnes, Ian, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Apr 2012
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


  • Benguela Current
  • molecular ecology
  • population genetics
  • Evolution

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