Morphological and genetic seasonal dynamics of European eel Anguilla anguilla recruitment in southern France


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The fine scale morphological and genetic dynamics of successive waves of Anguilla anguilla glass eel recruitment was studied over a 2 year period at a southern European Mediterranean location (Camargue, France) with continuous recruitment. Using morphometric [total length (LT), mass (M), condition (K) and pigmentation stage] as well as genetic (allozyme) markers, the aim was to test for the existence of temporally separated spawning groups and explore the relation between genetic variability and morphological heterogeneity of recruits. The results showed that LT, M and K varied over time, being highest from the end of summer to winter (peaking in December) and lowest in spring (lowest in April). The pigmentation stages within monthly samples were highly diverse with a heterogeneous seasonal pattern. Allozyme data showed high genetic variability values within samples, but low genetic differentiation among samples (FST = 0·003, P < 0·05). Pairwise comparisons between samples indicated a positive correlation between genetic differentiation and difference in recruitment time (days), with a marked increase in genetic differentiation around 250 days between monthly recruitment samples. Furthermore, genetic diversity increased with the number of pigmentation stages per sample and was negatively correlated with the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index during the putative year of trans-oceanic migration. No correlation, however, was found between the level of multilocus heterozygosity (MLH) and growth variables. A situation of genetic patchiness with fluctuating parental contribution can thus best explain the patterns observed, although the existence of two separate spawning periods cannot be excluded. More discriminatory and sensitive genetic markers, such as (neutral and adaptive) microsatellites, could probably provide additional insights into the most probable hypothesis explaining the population structure and recruitment heterogeneity of A. anguilla.