Patterns of Fish Connectivity between a Marine Protected Area and Surrounding Fished Areas
Patterns of connectivity and self-recruitment are recognized as key factors shaping the dynamics of marine populations. Connectivity is also essential for maintaining and restoring natural ecological processes with genetic diversity contributing to the adaptation and persistence of any species in the face of global disturbances. Estimates of connectivity are crucial to inform the design of both marine protected areas (MPAs) and MPA networks. Among several approaches, genetic structure is frequently used as a proxy for patterns of connectivity. Using 8 microsatellite loci, we investigated genetic structure of the two-banded sea bream Diplodus vulgaris, a coastal fish that is both commercially and ecologically important. Adults were sampled in 7 locations (stretches of coastline approximately 8 km long) and juveniles in 14 sites (~100 to 200 m of coastline) along 200 km of the Apulian Adriatic coast (SW Adriatic Sea), within and outside an MPA (Torre Guaceto MPA, Italy). Our study found similar genetic diversity indices for both the MPA and the surrounding fished areas. An overall lack of genetic structure among samples suggests high gene flow (i.e. connectivity) across a scale of at least 200 km. However, some local genetic divergences found in two locations demonstrate some heterogeneity in processes renewing the population along the Apulian Adriatic coast. Furthermore, two sites appeared genetically divergent, reinforcing our observations within the genetic makeup of adults and confirming heterogeneity in early stage genetics that can come from either different supply populations or from chaotic genetic patchiness occurring under temporal variation in recruitment and in the reproductive success. While the specific role of the MPA is not entirely known in this case, these results confirm the presence of regional processes and the key role of connectivity in maintaining the local population supply.