Weak genetic structure despite strong genomic signal in lesser sandeel in the North Sea

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Sandeels are an ecologically important group of fishes; they are a key part of the food chain serving as food for marine mammals, seabirds and fish. Sandeels are further targeted by a large industrial fishery, which has led to concern about ecosystem effects. In the North Sea, the lesser sandeel Ammodytes marinus is by far the most prevalent species of sandeel in the fishery. Management of sandeel in the North Sea plus the Kattegat is currently divided into seven geographical areas, based on subtle differences in demography, population dynamics and results from simulations of larval dispersal. However, little is known about the underlying genetic population structure. In this study, we used 2522 SNPs derived from Restriction‐site Associated DNA sequencing (RADseq) typed in 429 fish representing four main sandeel management areas. Our main results showed i) a lack of a clear spatially defined genetic structure across the majority of genetic markers, and ii) the existence of a group of at least 13 SNPs under strong linkage disequilibrium which together separate North Sea sandeel into three haplotype clusters, suggestive of one or more structural variants in the genome. Analyses of the spatial distribution of these putative structural variants suggest at least partial reproductive isolation of sandeel in the western management area along the Scottish coast, supporting a separate management. Our results highlight the importance of the application of a large number of markers to be able to detect weak patterns of differentiation. This study contributes to increasing the genetic knowledge of this important exploited species, and results can be used to improve our understanding of population dynamics and stock structure.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)376-387
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Ammodytes marinus
  • Fisheries management
  • Genetic structure
  • Lesser sandeel
  • Population genetics
  • Stock management
  • Structural variation


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