Sharp genetic breaks among populations of Haptosquilla pulchella (Stomatopoda) indicate limits to larval transport: patterns, causes, and consequences


P. H. Barber, §Present address: Boston University Marine Program, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA. E-mail:


To help stem the precipitous decline of coral reef ecosystems world-wide, conservation efforts are focused on establishing interconnected reserve networks to protect threatened populations. Because many coral reef organisms have a planktonic or pelagic larval dispersal phase, it is critical to understand the patterns of ecological connectivity between reserve populations that result from larval dispersal. We used genetics to infer dispersal patterns among 24 Indo-West Pacific populations of the mantis shrimp, Haptosquilla pulchella. Contrary to predictions of high dispersal facilitated by the strong currents of the Indonesian throughflow, mitochondrial DNA sequences from 393 individuals displayed striking patterns of regional genetic differentiation concordant with ocean basins isolated during periods of lowered sea level. Patterns of genetic structuring indicate that although dispersal within geographical regions with semicontiguous coastlines spanning thousands of kilometres may be common, ecologically meaningful connections can be rare among populations separated by as little as 300 km of open ocean. Strong genetic mosaics in a species with high dispersal potential highlight the utility of genetics for identifying regional patterns of genetic connectivity between marine populations and show that the assumption that ocean currents will provide ecological connectivity among marine populations must be empirically tested in the design of marine reserve networks.