Phylogenomics and species delimitation for effective conservation of manta and devil rays

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  • Jane Hosegood
  • Emily Humble
    University of Edinburgh
  • Rob Ogden
    University of EdinburghTRACE Wildlife Forensics Network
  • Mark De Bruyn
  • Simon Creer
  • Guy M W Stevens
    Manta Trust
  • Mohammed Abudaya
    National Research Center, Gaza City, Palestine
  • Kim Bassos-Hull
    Mote Marine Laboratory, The Center for Shark Research, FL
  • Ramon Bonfil
    Océanos Vivientes A. C., Mexico City
  • Daniel Fernando
    Manta Trust
  • Andrew Foote
  • Helen Hipperson
    University of Sheffield
  • Rima W. Jabado
    Elasmo Project, Dubai, UAE
  • Jennifer Kaden
    Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Edinburgh
  • Muhammad Moazzam
    WWF Pakistan, Karachi
  • Lauren R. Peel
    Manta Trust
  • Stephen Pollett
    Manta Trust
  • Alessandro Ponzo
    Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines
  • Marloes Poortvliet
  • Jehad Salah
    Ministry of Agriculture Directorate General of Fisheries, Gaza City, Palestine
  • Helen Senn
    Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Edinburgh
  • Joshua D. Stewart
    Manta Trust
  • Sabine Wintner
    KwaZulu‐Natal Sharks Board, Umhlanga Rocks, South Africa
  • Gary Carvalho
Practical biodiversity conservation relies on delineation of biologically meaningful units. Manta and devil rays (Mobulidae) are threatened worldwide, yet morphological similarities and a succession of recent taxonomic changes impede the development of an effective conservation strategy. Here, we generate genome‐wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data from a geographically and taxonomically representative set of manta and devil ray samples to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships and evaluate species boundaries under the general lineage concept. We show that nominal species units supported by alternative data sources constitute independently evolving lineages, and find robust evidence for a putative new species of manta ray in the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, we uncover substantial incomplete lineage sorting indicating that rapid speciation together with standing variation in ancestral populations has driven phylogenetic uncertainty within Mobulidae. Finally, we detect cryptic diversity in geographically distinct populations, demonstrating that management below the species level may be warranted in certain species. Overall, our study provides a framework for molecular genetic species delimitation that is relevant to wide‐ranging taxa of conservation concern, and highlights the potential for genomic data to support effective management, conservation and law enforcement strategies.


  • ddRAD, management, mobulids, single nucleotide polymorphism, taxonomy
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4783-4796
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number24
Early online date9 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

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