Whopping Fish Declared New Species
Thursday, August 21 2008 @ 01:01 pm EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
Once upon a time, about 3.5 million years ago - before the Caribbean and the Pacific were separated by present-day Panama - they were, in fact, the same species. Now, DNA tests have revealed the two populations have distinct genes, indicating they likely evolved into two separate species after their ocean homes were divided by Central America.
Scientists disagree about how to define the term "species" and what separates species from one another biologically, though some say that a species is a group that can mate with one another and produce offspring that are not sterile. However, this biological definition doesn't always hold up, for instance, with coyotes and wolves (considered separate species), which can successfully produce fertile offspring. In this study, the scientists relied on differences in the fishes' genetic codes to establish the separate grouper species.
The new Pacific species, now designated as Epinephelus quinquefasciatus, is described in a recent issue of the journal Endangered Species Research.
The Atlantic variety, E. itajara, is currently listed as critically endangered by the IUCN, or International Union for Conservation of Nature. Due to its scarcity, E. quinquefasciatus also may be considered critically endangered.
"In light of our new findings, the Pacific goliath grouper should be treated with separate management and conservation strategies," said researcher Rachel Graham of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York.
The research was funded by Programa Petrobras Ambiental, Conservation International Brazil to Projeto Meros do Brasil, The Summit Foundation, National Science Foundation and Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.
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