Use of Congeneric Assessment to Reveal the Linked Genetic Histories of Two Threatened Fishes in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia

Mark Adams, S. Wedderburn, Peter Unmack, Jerald Johnson

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21 Citations (Scopus)


The intensely regulated Murray-Darling Basin in southeastern Australia is the nation’s most extensive and economically important river system, and it contains fragmented populations of numerous fish species. Among these is the Murray hardyhead (Craterocephalus fluviatilis), a species listed as endangered (International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List) in the mid-1990s prior to its acute decline with the progression of a severe drought that began in 1997. We compared the genetic structure of Murray hardyhead with 4 congeneric species (Darling hardyhead [C. amniculus], Finke hardyhead [C. centralis], Lake Eyre hardyhead [C. eyresii], and unspecked hardyhead [C. stercusmuscarum]), selected on the basis of their taxonomic or biological similarity to Murray hardyhead, in order to affirm species boundaries and test for instances of introgressive hybridization, which may influence species ecology and conservation prospects. We used allozyme (52 loci) andmtDNA markers (1999 bp of ATPase and cytochrome b) to provide a comparative genetic assessment of 139 Murray hardyhead, which represented all extant and some recently extirpated populations, and 71 congeneric specimens from 12 populations. We confirmed that Murray hardyhead and Darling hardyhead are taxonomically distinct and identified a number of potential conservation units, defined with genetic criteria, in both species. We also found allozyme and mtDNA evidence of historic genetic exchange between these 2 allopatric species, apparently involving one population of each species at the geographic edge of the species’ ranges, not in the most proximate populations sampled. Our results provide information on species boundaries and offer insight into the likely causes of high genetic diversity in certain populations, results which are already being used to guide national recovery planning and local action. Given the prevalence of incorrect taxonomies and introgression in many organismal groups, we believe these data point to the need to commence genetic investigations of any threatened species from an initially broad taxonomic focus.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)767-776
Number of pages10
JournalConservation Biology
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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