Genetic Diversity of White Sharks, Carcharodon carcharias, in the Northwest Atlantic and Southern Africa

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The white shark, Carcharodon carcharias, is both one of the largest apex predators in the world and among the most heavily protected marine fish. Population genetic diversity is in part shaped by recent demographic history and can thus provide information complementary to more traditional population assessments, which are difficult to obtain for white sharks and have at times been controversial. Here, we use the mitochondrial control region and 14 nuclear-encoded microsatellite loci to assess white shark genetic diversity in 2 regions: the Northwest Atlantic (NWA, N = 35) and southern Africa (SA, N = 131). We find that these 2 regions harbor genetically distinct white shark populations (ΦST = 0.10, P < 0.00001; microsatellite FST = 0.1057, P < 0.021). M-ratios were low and indicative of a genetic bottleneck in the NWA (M-ratio = 0.71, P < 0.004) but not SA (M-ratio = 0.85, P = 0.39). This is consistent with other evidence showing a steep population decline occurring in the mid to late 20th century in the NWA, whereas the SA population appears to have been relatively stable. Estimates of effective population size ranged from 22.6 to 66.3 (NWA) and 188 to 1998.3 (SA) and evidence of inbreeding was found (primarily in NWA). Overall, our findings indicate that white population dynamics within NWA and SA are determined more by intrinsic reproduction than immigration and there is genetic evidence of a population decline in the NWA, further justifying the strong domestic protective measures that have been taken for this species in this region. Our study also highlights how assessment of genetic diversity can complement other sources of information to better understand the status of threatened marine fish populations.

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