Combining population genomics and biophysical modelling to assess connectivity patterns in an Antarctic fish

Resumen: Connectivity is a fundamental process of population dynamics in marine ecosystems. In the last decade, with the emergence of new methods, combining different approaches to understand the patterns of connectivity among populations and their regulation has become increasingly feasible. The Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) is characterized by complex oceanographic dynamics, where local conditions could act as barriers to population connectivity. Here, the notothenioid fish Harpagifer antarcticus, a demersal species with a complex life cycle (adults with poor swim capabilities and pelagic larvae), was used to assess connectivity along the WAP by combining biophysical modelling and population genomics methods. Both approaches showed congruent patterns. Areas of larvae retention and low potential connectivity, observed in the biophysical model output, coincide with four genetic groups within the WAP: (1) South Shetland Islands, (2) Bransfield Strait, (3) the central and (4) the southern area of WAP (Marguerite Bay). These genetic groups exhibited limited gene flow between them, consistent with local oceanographic conditions, which would represent barriers to larval dispersal. The joint effect of geographic distance and larval dispersal by ocean currents had a greater influence on the observed population structure than each variable evaluated separately. The combined effect of geographic distance and a complex oceanographic dynamic would be generating limited levels of population connectivity in the fish H. antarcticus along the WAP. Based on this, population connectivity estimations and priority areas for conservation were discussed, considering the marine protected area proposed for this threatened region of the Southern Ocean.

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