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Low genetic diversity and minimal population substructure in the endangered Florida manatee: implications for conservation

January 1, 2013

Species of management concern that have been affected by human activities typically are characterized by low genetic diversity, which can adversely affect their ability to adapt to environmental changes. We used 18 microsatellite markers to genotype 362 Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris), and investigated genetic diversity, population structure, and estimated genetically effective population size (Ne). The observed and expected heterozygosity and average number of alleles were 0.455 ± 0.04, 0.479 ± 0.04, and 4.77 ± 0.51, respectively. All measures of Florida manatee genetic diversity were less than averages reported for placental mammals, including fragmented or nonideal populations. Overall estimates of differentiation were low, though significantly greater than zero, and analysis of molecular variance revealed that over 95% of the total variance was among individuals within predefined management units or among individuals along the coastal subpopulations, with only minor portions of variance explained by between group variance. Although genetic issues, as inferred by neutral genetic markers, appear not to be critical at present, the Florida manatee continues to face demographic challenges due to anthropogenic activities and stochastic factors such as red tides, oil spills, and disease outbreaks; these can further reduce genetic diversity of the manatee population.