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Extinction-colonization dynamics structure genetic variation of spotted sunfish (Lepomis punctatus) in the Florida Everglades


J. C. Trexler. Fax: 305 348 1986. E-mail:


The population genetics of aquatic animals in the Florida Everglades may be strongly influenced by extinction and colonization dynamics. We combined analyses of allozyme and microsatellite loci to test the hypothesis that two levels of population structure are present for spotted sunfish (Pisces: Centrarchidae: Lepomis punctatus) inhabiting the Everglades. We hypothesized that annual cycles of marsh dry-down increase local-scale genetic variation through a process of local extinction and colonization; we hypothesized that barriers to gene flow by levee/canal systems create a second, regional level of genetic variation. In 1996 and 1997, we sampled spotted sunfish from 11 Everglades sites that were distributed in three regions separated by levees. We documented patterns of genetic variation at 7 polymorphic allozyme loci and 5 polymorphic microsatellite loci. Most genetic variation was present among local populations, according to both types of genetic markers. Furthermore, samples from marsh sites were heterogeneous, while those from canals were not. These data supported our hypothesis that dry-down events and local population dynamics in the marsh have a significant effect on population genetic structure of spotted sunfish. We found no support for our hypothesis that water-management structures superimpose a second level of genetic structure on this species, possibly because canals obscure historical structure by facilitating gene flow or because the complete canal system has been in place for fewer than 20 generations of this species. Our data suggests a continent-island (canal-marsh) structure of populations with high gene flow among regions and recurrent mixing in marshes from canal and creek habitats.