Genetic evidence from the spiny lobster fishery supports international cooperation among Central American marine protected areas
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are an important ecosystem-based management approach to help improve the sustainability of the spiny lobster fishery (Panulirus argus), but information is lacking concerning levels of lobster population connectivity among MPAs. Given their prolonged (~6 months) pelagic larval duration, population connectivity must be considered in any spatial management plan for P. argus. We used genetic techniques to uncover spatial patterns of connectivity among MPAs along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (MBRS) of Central America. We hypothesized that connectivity would be greater and genetic differentiation diminished among lobster populations within MPAs in the southern MBRS, which is dominated by a retentive oceanographic environment, as compared to MPAs in the more advective environment further north. We found that levels of connectivity are high among spiny lobster populations residing in MPAs in Central America, although overall F ST was low (F ST = 0.00013) but significant (P = 0.037). MPAs in the northern MBRS contained significantly more individuals that were genetically determined outliers or migrants than southern MPAs (P = 0.008, R 2 = 0.61), which may have contributed to the higher levels of genetic differentiation observed in northern MPAs. Direct genetic testing of larvae and adults will be required to confirm this hypothesis. The high level of connectivity among MPAs provides additional evidence of the importance of international cooperation in the management of Caribbean lobster fisheries. However, uncertainty regarding the ecological and physical drivers of genetic differentiation in Northern MPAs implies that managers should hedge against uncertainty.