Severe inbreeding and small effective number of breeders in a formerly abundant marine fish

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In contrast to freshwater fish it is presumed that marine fish are unlikely to spawn with close relatives due to the dilution effect of large breeding populations and their propensity for movement and reproductive mixing. Inbreeding is therefore not typically a focal concern of marine fish management. We measured the effective number of breeders in 6 New York estuaries for winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus), a formerly abundant fish, using 11 microsatellite markers (6–56 alleles per locus). The effective number of breeders for 1–2 years was remarkably small, with point estimates ranging from 65–289 individuals. Excess homozygosity was detected at 10 loci in all bays (FIS = 0.169–0.283) and individuals exhibited high average internal relatedness (IR; mean = 0.226). These both indicate that inbreeding is very common in all bays, after testing for and ruling out alternative explanations such as technical and sampling artifacts. This study demonstrates that even historically common marine fish can be prone to inbreeding, a factor that should be considered in fisheries management and conservation plans.

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