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Keywords:

  • Chondrichthyes;
  • IUCN Red List;
  • old DNA;
  • Pristis pristis;
  • taxonomic confusion

Sawfishes are among the most endangered of all elasmobranch species, a factor fostering considerable worldwide interest in the conservation of these animals. However, conservation efforts have been hampered by the confusing taxonomy of the group and the poor state of knowledge about the family's geographical population structure. Based on historical taxonomy, external morphology, and mitochondrial DNA sequences (NADH-2), we show here that, globally, the sawfish comprise five species in two genera: Pristis pristis (circumtropical), Pristis clavata (east Indo-West Pacific), Pristis pectinata (Atlantic), Pristis zijsron (Indo-West Pacific), and Anoxypristis cuspidata (Indo-West Pacific, except for East Africa and the Red Sea). This improved understanding will have implications for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List assessments, and endangered species laws and regulations in several countries. Furthermore, based on both or either of NADH-2 and the number of rostral teeth per side, we show that populations of P. pristis, P. pectinata, P. zijsron, and A. cuspidata exhibit significant geographic structuring across their respective ranges, meaning that regional-level conservation will be required. Finally, the NADH-2 gene may serve as a marker for the identification of rostra and fins involved in illegal trade. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London