Panmixia in a Critically Endangered Fish: The Totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) in the Gulf of California

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Conservation of the evolutionary legacy of endangered species is a key component for long-term persistence. Totoaba is a long-lived fish endemic to the Gulf of California and is considered critically endangered. There is currently a debate concerning its conservation status and whether it can be used as a fishery resource. Unfortunately, basic information on biological and genetic population structure of the species is lacking. We sampled 313 individuals and employed 16 microsatellite loci and 3 mitochondrial DNA markers (16S, 547 pb; COI, 619 pb; control region, 650 pb) to assess population structure and demography of totoaba in the Gulf of California, with samples from locations that encompass nearly all of its recognized geographic distribution. We could not reject a hypothesis of panmixia for totoaba, using nuclear or mitochondrial markers. Demographic analysis of mtDNA suggests a sudden population expansion model. The results have important implications for totoaba conservation because poaching is a significant conservation challenge and could have additive negative effects over the single population of totoaba in the Gulf of California.

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