Genetic structuring of Patagonian toothfish populations in the Southwest Atlantic Ocean: the effect of the Antarctic Polar Front and deep-water troughs as barriers to genetic exchange


Dr P. W. Shaw. Fax: 01784 470756; E-mail:


The environmental and/or life history factors affecting genetic exchange in marine species with potential for high dispersal are of great interest, not only from an evolutionary standpoint but also with regard to effective management. Previous genetic studies have demonstrated substantial differentiation among populations of the Patagonian toothfish around the Southern Ocean, indicating breakdown of gene flow across large distances between inhabited shelf areas. The present study examined genetic structuring through analysis of microsatellite loci and restriction fragment length poymorphism (RFLP) of the mitochondrial ND2 gene and control region of the toothfish population in the SW Atlantic, allowing examination of the relative effects of the Antarctic Polar Front (APF), deep-water troughs and distance between sites. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) data indicated a sharp genetic division between the Patagonian Shelf/North Scotia Ridge and the Shag Rocks/South Georgia samples, whereas microsatellite data showed much less distinct structuring and an intermediate position of the North Scotia Ridge samples. We suggest these data indicate that the APF, as a barrier to larval dispersal, is the major inhibitor of genetic exchange between toothfish populations, with deep-water troughs and distance between sites contributing to genetic differentiation by inhibiting migration of relatively sedentary adults. We also suggest that differences between mtDNA and nuclear DNA population patterns may reflect either genome population size effects or (putative) male-biased dispersal.