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DNA study reveals new 1,000-pound grouper species

DNA study reveals new 1,000-pound grouper species

New 1,000-pound grouper species discovered
August 20, 2008

DNA analysis has revealed that a 1,000-pound grouper found in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is actually two different species.

The research — conducted by scientists at the University of Hawaii, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, National Marine Fisheries Service and Projecto Meros do Brazil — found that although the 6-foot long grouper looks the same across its range, the population in the western Pacific are genetically distinct from the population in the Atlantic.

“For more than a century, ichthyologists have thought that Pacific and Atlantic goliath grouper were the same species, and the argument was settled before the widespread use of genetic techniques. The genetic data were the key to our finding: two species, one on each side of the isthmus,” said Dr. Matthew Craig of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, lead author of the study.

The two populations diverged about three-and-a-half million years ago when the rise of the Panamanian isthmus divided the Caribbean and the Pacific.

The new Pacific species is now classified as Epinephelus quinquefasciatus, while the Atlantic species is Epinephelus itajara.

E. itajara is currently listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. E. quinquefasciatus may also be considered critically endangered.

“In light of our new findings, the Pacific goliath grouper should be treated with separate management and conservation strategies,” said WCS researcher Dr. Rachel Graham, a co-author on the study.

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