The connectivity among marine populations is determined by the dispersal capabilities of adults as well as their eggs and larvae. Dispersal distances and directions have a profound effect on gene flow and genetic differentiation within species. Genetic homogeneity over large areas is a common feature of coral reef fishes and can reflect high dispersal capability resulting in high levels of gene flow. If fish larvae return to their parental reef, gene flow would be restricted and genetic differentiation could occur. Larabicus quadrilineatus (Labridae) is considered as an endemic fish species of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The juveniles of this species are cleaner fish that feed on ectoparasites of other fishes. Here, we investigated the genetic population structure and gene flow in L. quadrilineatus among five locations in the Red Sea to infer connectivity among them. To estimate genetic diversity, we analysed 369 bp of 237 mitochondrial DNA control region sequences. Haplotype and nucleotide diversities were higher in the southern than in the northern Red Sea. Analysis of molecular variance (amova) detected the highest significant genetic variation between northern and central/southern populations (ΦCT = 0.01; P < 0.001). Migration analysis revealed a several fold higher northward than southward migration, which could be explained by oceanographic conditions and spawning season. Even though the ΦST value of 0.01 is rather low and implies a long larval dispersal distance, estimates based on the isolation-by-distance model show a very low mean larval dispersal distance (0.44–5.1 km) compared to other studies. In order to enable a sustainable ornamental fishery on the fourline wrasse, the results of this study suggest that populations in the northern and southern Red Sea should be managed separately as two different stocks. The rather low larval dispersal distance of about 5 km needs to be considered in the design of marine protected areas to enable connectivity and self-seeding.
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