Population genetic structure in European lobsters: implications for connectivity, diversity and hatchery stocking


The European lobster Homarus gammarus is a marine crustacean prized for seafood, but populations across its range are threatened by fishery overexploitation. The speciesโ€™ larval stages are planktonic, suggesting considerable dispersal among populations. The potential threats of overexploitation and erosion of population structure due to hatchery releases or inadvertent introductions make it important to understand the genetic structuring of populations across multiple geographic scales. Here we assess lobster population structure at a fine scale in Cornwall, southwestern UK, where a hatchery-stocking operation introduces cultured individuals into the wild stock, and at a broader European level, in order to compare the spatial scale of hatchery releases with that of population connectivity. Microsatellite genotypes of 24 individuals from each of 13 locations in Cornwall showed no fine-scale population structure across distances of up to ~230 km. Significant differentiation and isolation by distance were detected at a broader scale, using 300 additional individuals comprising a further 15 European samples. Signals of genetic heterogeneity were evident between an Atlantic cluster and samples from Sweden. Connectivity within the Atlantic and Swedish clusters was high, although evidence for isolation by distance and a transitional zone within the eastern North Sea suggested that direct gene exchange between these stocks is limited and fits a stepping-stone model. We conclude that hatchery-reared lobsters should not be released where broodstock are distantly sourced but, using Cornwall as a case study, microsatellites revealed no evidence that the normal release of hatchery stock exceeds the geographic scale of natural connectivity.