Conservation priorities in an endangered estuarine seahorse are informed by demographic history

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Historical demographic events shape genetic diversity that remains evident in the genomes of contemporary populations. In the case of species that are of conservation concern, this information helps to unravel evolutionary histories that can be critical in guiding conservation efforts. The Knysna seahorse, Hippocampus capensis, is the world’s most endangered seahorse species, and it presently survives in only three estuaries on the South African south coast. Factors that contributed to the species becoming endangered are unclear; additionally, the lack of information on whether the three populations should be managed separately because of potential long-term isolation hampers effective management efforts. In the present study, we reconstructed the seahorses’ demographic history using a suite of microsatellite loci. We found that the largest population (Knysna Estuary) has colonised the other estuaries relatively recently (< 450 years ago), and that its population size is comparatively large and stable. Neither of the other two populations shows signs of long-term reductions in population size. The high conservation status of the species is thus a result of its limited range rather than historical population declines. Our findings indicate that the long-term survival of H. capensis depends primarily on the successful management of the Knysna population, although the other estuaries may serve as reservoirs of genetic diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4205
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Multidisciplinary


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