Tuesday, October 18, 2016

New paper published: Genetic diversity and demography of the red starfish

A beautiful specimen of the red starfish Echinaster sepositus.
by Alex Garcia-Cisneros

One of the most wonderful starfish of the Mediterranean suffered a large demographic expansion since the last maximum glacial period. However, its demographic expansion does not prevent it to have a weakness point: a low genetic diversity that might indicate the vulnerability of the species. These and more results were recently published by the ChallenGen team in a manuscript entitled “Low genetic diversity and demographic expansion in the red starfish Echinaster sepositus (Retzius 1816)” at the Scientific Reports.

The authors used both mitochondrial and nuclear markers to resolve the phylogeography and population genetics of the commonly named “red starfish” (Echinaster sepositus). The authors analysed samples from most of the distribution range of the species, with 15 localities distributed between both Mediterranean basins and the Atlantic Ocean.

Besides to demonstrate the low genetic diversity of the species compared with other echinoderms, the species showed a weak genetic structure within marine basins despite the a priori low dispersal potential of its lecithotrophic larva. The lecithotrophic larva in this species does not live more than few days before the settlement and therefore, it makes it difficult to connect distant or isolated populations. Furthermore, we found sharp differences in two Mediterranean localities, Cartagena and Livorno, that are located close to large marine harbours and coastal areas affected by industry, although our experimental design does not allow us to assess the effects of pollutants on the genetic structure.

Bar plots of the Bayesian clustering analysis obtained using STRUCTURE for different K values and based on the combination of both mitochondrial sequences (COI) and microsatellite loci.