Understanding population structure and areas of demographic persistence and transients is critical for effective species management. However, direct observational evidence to address the geographic scale and delineation of ephemeral or persistent populations for many marine fishes is limited. The Lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus) can be commonly found in three western Atlantic zoogeographic provinces, though inhabitants of the temperate northern Virginia Province are often considered tropical vagrants that only arrive during warm seasons from the southern provinces and perish as temperatures decline. Although genetics can locate regions of historical population persistence and isolation, previous evidence of Virginia Province persistence is only provisional due to limited genetic sampling (i.e., mitochondrial DNA and five nuclear loci). To test alternative hypotheses of historical persistence versus the ephemerality of a northern Virginia Province population we used a RADseq generated dataset consisting of 11,708 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) sampled from individuals collected from the eastern Gulf of Mexico to Long Island, NY. Concordant results from genomic analyses all infer three genetically divergent subpopulations, and strongly support Virginia Province inhabitants as a genetically diverged and a historically persistent ancestral gene pool. These results suggest that individuals that emerge in coastal areas during the warm season can be considered “local” and supports offshore migration during the colder months. This research demonstrates how a large number of genes sampled across a geographical range can capture the diversity of coalescent histories (across loci) while inferring population history. Moreover, these results clearly demonstrate the utility of population genomic data to infer peripheral subpopulation persistence in difficult-to-observe species.
Boehm, J. T., Waldman, J., Robinson, J. D. & Hickerson, M. J. (2015). Population Genomics Reveals Seahorses (Hippocampus erectus) of the Western Mid-Atlantic Coast to Be Residents Rather than Vagrants. PLoS ONE, 10(1), e0116219. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0116219.