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Keywords:

  • Coral reef fish;
  • Coral Sea;
  • cytochrome b;
  • founder effect;
  • Great Barrier Reef;
  • phylogeography;
  • population structure.

AbstractAcanthochromis polyacanthus is an unusual tropical marine damselfish that uniquely lacks pelagic larvae and has lost the capacity for broad-scale dispersal among coral reefs. On the modern Great Barrier Reef (GBR), three color morphs meet and hydridize at two zones of secondary contact. Allozyme electrophoreses revealed strong differences between morphs from the southern zone but few differences between morphs from the northern counterpart, thus suggesting different contact histories. We explore the phylogeography of Acanthochromis polyacanthus with mitochondrial cytochrome b region sequences (alignment of 565 positions) obtained from 126 individuals representing seven to 12 fish from 13 sites distributed over 12 reefs of the GBR and the Coral Sea. The samples revealed three major clades: (1) black fish collected from the southern GBR; (2) bicolored fish collected from the GBR and one reef (Osprey) from the northern Coral Sea; (3) black and white monomorphs collected from six reefs in the Coral Sea. All three clades were well supported (72–100%) by bootstrap analyses. Sequence divergences were very high between the major clades (mean = 7.6%) as well as within them (2.0–3.6%). Within clades, most reefs segregated as monophyletic assemblages. This was revealed both by phylogenetic analyses and AMOVAs that showed that 72–90% of the variance originated from differences among groups, whereas only 5–13% originated within populations. These patterns are discussed in relation to the known geological history of coral reefs of the GBR and the Coral Sea. Finally, we ask whether the monospecific status of Acanthochromis should be revisited because the sequence divergences found among our samples is substantially greater than those recorded among well-recognized species in other reef fishes.