Genetic diversity and population connectivity of the sea urchin Tripneustes gratilla along the South African coast
The collector sea urchin Tripneustes gratilla has been identified as a species with potential for aquaculture production in South Africa. The species’ roe is considered a culinary delicacy in Asia and Europe. However, T. gratilla remains genetically uncharacterised in South Africa. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to provide baseline genetic information consisting of estimates of genetic diversity and population stratification, which may aid in future sustainable use of this urchin resource. A total of 22 species-specific microsatellite markers were used for the genetic characterisation of T. gratilla samples from along the South African coast, at Haga Haga, Coffee Bay, Hibberdene, Ballito Bay and Sodwana Bay. A moderate level of genetic diversity was observed, with an average number of alleles of 7.89 and an average effective number of alleles of 6.57, as well as an average observed heterozygosity of 0.55. Population differentiation tests suggest that the geographically representative samples form part of a single, large interbreeding population, with a global Fst estimate of 0.02 (p > 0.05). This finding is likely explained by high levels of gene flow between these locations caused by extensive larval dispersal during the planktonic larval stage. The panmixia observed within these natural populations of T. gratilla indicate that they could be managed as a single genetic stock.
Keywords: clustering, gene flow, microsatellite DNA, multiplex assays, population genetics