Influence of historical landscapes, drainage evolution and ecological traits on patterns of genetic diversity in Southeast Asian freshwater snakehead fishes

Adamson, Eleanor A. S. (2010) Influence of historical landscapes, drainage evolution and ecological traits on patterns of genetic diversity in Southeast Asian freshwater snakehead fishes. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Snakehead fishes in the family Channidae are obligate freshwater fishes represented by two extant genera, the African Parachannna and the Asian Channa. These species prefer still or slow flowing water bodies, where they are top predators that exercise high levels of parental care, have the ability to breathe air, can tolerate poor water quality, and interestingly, can aestivate or traverse terrestrial habitat in response to seasonal changes in freshwater habitat availability. These attributes suggest that snakehead fishes may possess high dispersal potential, irrespective of the terrestrial barriers that would otherwise constrain the distribution of most freshwater fishes. A number of biogeographical hypotheses have been developed to account for the modern distributions of snakehead fishes across two continents, including ancient vicariance during Gondwanan break-up, or recent colonisation tracking the formation of suitable climatic conditions. Taxonomic uncertainty also surrounds some members of the Channa genus, as geographical distributions for some taxa across southern and Southeast (SE) Asia are very large, and in one case is highly disjunct. The current study adopted a molecular genetics approach to gain an understanding of the evolution of this group of fishes, and in particular how the phylogeography of two Asian species may have been influenced by contemporary versus historical levels of dispersal and vicariance. First, a molecular phylogeny was constructed based on multiple DNA loci and calibrated with fossil evidence to provide a dated chronology of divergence events among extant species, and also within species with widespread geographical distributions. The data provide strong evidence that trans-continental distribution of the Channidae arose as a result of dispersal out of Asia and into Africa in the mid–Eocene. Among Asian Channa, deep divergence among lineages indicates that the Oligocene-Miocene boundary was a time of significant species radiation, potentially associated with historical changes in climate and drainage geomorphology. Mid-Miocene divergence among lineages suggests that a taxonomic revision is warranted for two taxa. Deep intra-specific divergence (~8Mya) was also detected between C. striata lineages that occur sympatrically in the Mekong River Basin. The study then examined the phylogeography and population structure of two major taxa, Channa striata (the chevron snakehead) and the C. micropeltes (the giant snakehead), across SE Asia. Species specific microsatellite loci were developed and used in addition to a mitochondrial DNA marker (Cyt b) to screen neutral genetic variation within and among wild populations. C. striata individuals were sampled across SE Asia (n=988), with the major focus being the Mekong Basin, which is the largest drainage basin in the region. The distributions of two divergent lineages were identified and admixture analysis showed that where they co-occur they are interbreeding, indicating that after long periods of evolution in isolation, divergence has not resulted in reproductive isolation. One lineage is predominantly confined to upland areas of northern Lao PDR to the north of the Khorat Plateau, while the other, which is more closely related to individuals from southern India, has a widespread distribution across mainland SE Asian and Sumatra. The phylogeographical pattern recovered is associated with past river networks, and high diversity and divergence among all populations sampled reveal that contemporary dispersal is very low for this taxon, even where populations occur in contiguous freshwater habitats. C. micropeltes (n=280) were also sampled from across the Mekong River Basin, focusing on the lower basin where it constitutes an important wild fishery resource. In comparison with C. striata, allelic diversity and genetic divergence among populations were extremely low, suggesting very recent colonisation of the greater Mekong region. Populations were significantly structured into at least three discrete populations in the lower Mekong. Results of this study have implications for establishing effective conservation plans for managing both species, that represent economically important wild fishery resources for the region. For C. micropeltes, it is likely that a single fisheries stock in the Tonle Sap Great Lake is being exploited by multiple fisheries operations, and future management initiatives for this species in this region will need to account for this. For C. striata, conservation of natural levels of genetic variation will require management initiatives designed to promote population persistence at very localised spatial scales, as the high level of population structuring uncovered for this species indicates that significant unique diversity is present at this fine spatial scale.

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ID Code: 39612
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Mather, Peter & Hurwood, David
Keywords: admixture analysis, air-breathing fish, clades, channidae, chao phraya river, chronogram, cytochrome b, bayesian clustering, drainage evolution, ecology, freshwater fish, fossil calibration, genetic diversity, historical biogeography, Khorat plateau, median-joining network, Mekong River, microsatellite dna, molecular evolution, phylogeny, phylogeography, population genetics, rag1, ribosomal rna 16s, rp1, Siam River, Southeast Asia, snakehead fishes, Sunda shelf, s7 intron, Tonle Sap great lake
Divisions: Past > Schools > Biogeoscience
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 21 Jan 2011 02:20
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 20:01

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