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Vertical and Horizontal Genetic Connectivity in Chromis verater, an Endemic Damselfish Found on Shallow and Mesophotic Reefs in the Hawaiian Archipelago and Adjacent Johnston Atoll


Understanding vertical and horizontal connectivity is a major priority in research on mesophotic coral ecosystems (30-150 m). However, horizontal connectivity has been the focus of few studies, and data on vertical connectivity are limited to sessile benthic mesophotic organisms. Here we present patterns of vertical and horizontal connectivity in the Hawaiian Islands-Johnston Atoll endemic threespot damselfish, Chromis verater, based on 319 shallow specimens and 153 deep specimens. The mtDNA markers cytochrome b and control region were sequenced to analyze genetic structure: 1) between shallow (< 30 m) and mesophotic (30-150 m) populations and 2) across the species' geographic range. Additionally, the nuclear markers rhodopsin and internal transcribed spacer 2 of ribosomal DNA were sequenced to assess connectivity between shallow and mesophotic populations. There was no significant genetic differentiation by depth, indicating high levels of vertical connectivity between shallow and deep aggregates of C. verater. Consequently, shallow and deep samples were combined by location for analyses of horizontal connectivity. We detected low but significant population structure across the Hawaiian Archipelago (overall cytochrome b: ΦST = 0.009, P = 0.020; control region: ΦST = 0.012, P = 0.009) and a larger break between the archipelago and Johnston Atoll (cytochrome b: ΦST = 0.068, P < 0.001; control region: ΦST = 0.116, P < 0.001). The population structure within the archipelago was driven by samples from the island of Hawaii at the southeast end of the chain and Lisianski in the middle of the archipelago. The lack of vertical genetic structure supports the refugia hypothesis that deep reefs may constitute a population reservoir for species depleted in shallow reef habitats. These findings represent the first connectivity study on a mobile organism that spans shallow and mesophotic depths and provide a reference point for future connectivity studies on mesophotic fishes.

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