Indo-Pacific population structure and evolutionary history of the coconut crab Birgus latro



Mitochondrial DNA variation was used to examine population structure in a widespread, marine-dispersed species, Birgus latro. Crabs were collected from eight locations throughout the species' Indo-Pacific distribution. Purified mtDNA from 160 individuals was cut with five restriction enzymes, revealing high haplotype diversity (0.96) and moderate nucleotide diversity (0.75%). Island populations from the Indian Ocean (Christmas I.) and Pacific Ocean were significantly different (GST= 0.37) and had distinct mtDNA lineages with a net sequence divergence of 1.4%. Pacific island populations had diverged in a manner consistent with isolation by distance, with only the most peripheral populations being significantly different. The results for mtDNA are largely concordant with those from allozymes, although estimates of gene flow between the Indian and Pacific Oceans were much lower when based on mtDNA. The mtDNA phylogeny also permitted a deeper examination of the evolutionary and demographic history of Birgus latro. Long-term separation of populations is evident in the complete phylogenetic subdivision of mtDNA lineages between the Indian and Pacific Ocean populations sampled. The starlike phylogeny of alleles from the Pacific suggests a rapid population expansion in the Pacific during the Pleistocene. Including information about allele phylogeny, as well as distribution and frequency, obscured contemporary population structure, but provided unique insights into the evolutionary history of the species.