Marine Biology

, Volume 143, Issue 6, pp 1057–1069 | Cite as

Ancient divergences and recent connections in two tropical Atlantic reef fishes Epinephelus adscensionis and Rypticus saponaceous (Percoidei: Serranidae)

  • J. L. Carlin
  • D. R. Robertson
  • B. W. BowenEmail author
Research Article


Reef habitats of the tropical Atlantic are separated by river outflows and oceanic expanses that may preclude larval dispersal or other population connections in shorefishes. To examine the impact of these habitat discontinuities on the intraspecific phylogeography of reef-associated species we conducted range-wide surveys of two amphi-Atlantic reef fishes that have dispersive pelagic larval stages. Based on 593 bp of mtDNA cytochrome b from the rock hind Epinephelus adscensionis and 682 bp from the greater soapfish Rypticus saponaceous (n=109 and 86, respectively), we found evidence of relatively ancient separations as well as recent surmounting of biogeographic barriers by dispersal or colonization. Rock hind showed slight but significant population genetic differentiation across much of the tropical Atlantic Ocean (ΦST=0.056), but deep divergence between the southeastern United States and seven other localities from the Bahamas to the south, central and east Atlantic (mean pairwise d=0.040, overall ΦST=0.867). The geographic distribution of the two rock hind lineages is highly unusual in genetic studies of Caribbean Sea reef fishes, because those lineages are separated by less than 250 km of open water within a major biogeographic region. In contrast, highly significant population genetic structure was observed among greater soapfish from the SW Caribbean, Brazil, and mid-Atlantic ridge (ΦST=0.372), with a deep evolutionary separation distinguishing putative R. saponaceous from West Africa (mean pairwise d=0.044, overall ΦST=0.929). Both species show evidence for a potential connection between the Caribbean and Brazilian provinces. While widespread haplotype sharing in rock hind indicates that larvae of this species cross oceanic expanses of as much as 2000 km, such a situation is difficult to reconcile with the isolation of populations in Florida and the Bahamas separated by only 250 km. These findings indicate that populations of some species in disjunct biogeographic zones may be isolated for long periods, perhaps sufficient for allopatric speciation, but rare gene flow between zones may preclude such evolutionary divergence in other species.


Reef Fish Mismatch Distribution Biogeographic Province Reef Fish Species Biogeographic Barrier 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank J.C. Avise, A.L. Bass, R.W. Chapman, D. DeMaria, J. Horrocks, S.A. Karl, A. Muss, L. Rocha, T. Streelman, and D. Weaver for generous contributions of time, expertise, and samples. Collections in the central and eastern Atlantic were made possible by M. MacDowell, H. Pinto da Costa, the Direccão das Pescas do São Tomé, the Administrator of Ascension Island, and the Governor of St. Helena Island. The University of Florida DNA Sequencing Core sequenced all the samples used in this project. This work was primarily funded by a National Science Foundation grant to B.W. Bowen jointly awarded by the Population Biology and Biological Oceanography Divisions, and complied with required animal care and use guidelines. Field work was also supported in part by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute with logistic support from the US Air Force. J.L.C. was funded by the International Women's Fishing Association, the Florida Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, and the US Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyWhitman CollegeWalla WallaUSA
  2. 2.Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Panama)APO AAUSA
  3. 3.Hawaii Institute of Marine BiologyUniversity of HawaiiKaneoheUSA

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