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Genetic structure of Barbus spp. populations in the Marches Region of central Italy and its relevance to conservation actions


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A genetic survey of Barbus spp. populations in the Marches Region (Adriatic River basins), central Italy, was carried out using mitochondrial and nuclear markers (partial D-loop, cyt b sequences and microsatellite loci) in order to ascertain their systematic position and to address their genetic structure which is key to conservation action planning. Analyses were conducted on sequences obtained from 91 individuals collected from eight sampling sites in five different rivers, from two specimens provided by the Ichthyological Centre of Rome and mitochondrial sequences of Barbus spp. retrieved from GenBank. Presumptive classification based on external morphological characters was not confirmed by genetic analysis, by means of which all specimens collected in the Marches Region were ascribed to Barbus plebejus. Genetic diversity values (h and π) of sampling groups were all different from 0 except the one sample collected from the upper reaches of the River Tenna, above a hydroelectric dam. Population connectivity and colonization patterns of the studied area were inferred from an analysis of molecular variance distribution and evolutionary relationships among haplotypes. The results point to different levels of isolation among sampling groups due to ecological and anthropogenic factors and the effect of an artificial barrier on genetic variability and conservation status of the population. Finally, this study confirms the uncertainty associated with systematic classification of Barbus spp. based on morphological characters due to the phenotypic plasticity of the species.