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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Clipperton Atoll as a model to study small marine populations: Endemism and the genomic consequences of small population size.

  • Author(s): Crane, Nicole L
  • Tariel, Juliette
  • Caselle, Jennifer E
  • Friedlander, Alan M
  • Robertson, D Ross
  • Bernardi, Giacomo
  • et al.

Estimating population sizes and genetic diversity are key factors to understand and predict population dynamics. Marine species have been a difficult challenge in that respect, due to the difficulty in assessing population sizes and the open nature of such populations. Small, isolated islands with endemic species offer an opportunity to groundtruth population size estimates with empirical data and investigate the genetic consequences of such small populations. Here we focus on two endemic species of reef fish, the Clipperton damselfish, Stegastes baldwini, and the Clipperton angelfish, Holacanthus limbaughi, on Clipperton Atoll, tropical eastern Pacific. Visual surveys, performed over almost two decades and four expeditions, and genetic surveys based on genomic RAD sequences, allowed us to estimate kinship and genetic diversity, as well as to compare population size estimates based on visual surveys with effective population sizes based on genetics. We found that genetic and visual estimates of population numbers were remarkably similar. S. baldwini and H. limbaughi had population sizes of approximately 800,000 and 60,000, respectively. Relatively small population sizes resulted in low genetic diversity and the presence of apparent kinship. This study emphasizes the importance of small isolated islands as models to study population dynamics of marine organisms.

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