Population genetic structure of the tropical two-wing flyingfish (Exocoetus volitans)

Eric A. Lewallen, Andrew J. Bohonak, Carolina A. Bonin, Andre J. Van Wijnen, Robert L. Pitman, Nathan R. Lovejoy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Delineating populations of pantropical marine fish is a difficult process, due to widespread geographic ranges and complex life history traits in most species. Exocoetus volitans, a species of two-winged flyingfish, is a good model for understanding large-scale patterns of epipelagic fish population structure because it has a circumtropical geographic range and completes its entire life cycle in the epipelagic zone. Buoyant pelagic eggs should dictate high local dispersal capacity in this species, although a brief larval phase, small body size, and short lifespan may limit the dispersal of individuals over large spatial scales. Based on these biological features, we hypothesized that E. volitans would exhibit statistically and biologically significant population structure defined by recognized oceanographic barriers. We tested this hypothesis by analyzing cytochrome b mtDNA sequence data (1106 bps) from specimens collected in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans (n = 266). AMOVA, Bayesian, and coalescent analytical approaches were used to assess and interpret population-level genetic variability. A parsimony-based haplotype network did not reveal population subdivision among ocean basins, but AMOVA revealed limited, statistically significant population structure between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (ΦST = 0.035, p<0.001). A spatially-unbiased Bayesian approach identified two circumtropical population clusters north and south of the Equator (ΦST = 0.026, p<0.001), a previously unknown dispersal barrier for an epipelagic fish. Bayesian demographic modeling suggested the effective population size of this species increased by at least an order of magnitude ∼150,000 years ago, to more than 1 billion individuals currently. Thus, high levels of genetic similarity observed in E. volitans can be explained by high rates of gene flow, a dramatic and recent population expansion, as well as extensive and consistent dispersal throughout the geographic range of the species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0163198
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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