Global genetic structure in the yellow bellied sea snake

The yellow-bellied sea snake  (Hydrophis platurus ) is the most widely-distributed vertebrate on the planet, using oceanic currents to traverse the Pacific and Indian Oceans. But how connected are these populations?  Image credit: Jenna Crowe-Riddell

The yellow-bellied sea snake (Hydrophis platurus) is the most widely-distributed vertebrate on the planet, using oceanic currents to traverse the Pacific and Indian Oceans. But how connected are these populations?

Image credit: Jenna Crowe-Riddell

The yellow-bellied sea snake (Hydrophis platurus) is the only truly pelagic species to traverse both the Indian and Pacific oceans. Despite this extensive distribution, very little is known about the interconnectivity between populations. Using RADseq we will sequence H. platurus tissues from museum and field collections in order to 1) resolve the population structure at a global scale, across oceans connecting Central America, Australia, Asia and Africa, and 2) reconstruct past demographic changes at a finer scale in purportedly isolated populations in Costa Rica and the Arabian Gulf.

Do you have tissue samples for this species? Please contact me if you’d like to collaborate on this project!

Hydrophis platurus hunts at the sea surface; ambushing pelagic fish prey by mimicking flotsam in open-ocean currents or slicks. Floating on these currents, H. platurus traverses the Pacific Ocean and reaches the Americas, but is excluded from the Atlantic by the Isthmus of Panama that formed approximately 3 mya and freshwater locks of the Panama canal (Lillywhite et al., 2017). H. platurus also reaches the southern tip of Africa, but the cold Bengula current and low level of precipitation prevent westward dispersal into the warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean. If H. platurus truley is a passive disperser, then we can expect to see higher gene flow between populations that are connected by large oceanic currents.

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Slides from speed talk at JMIH 2018.

This work is in collaboration with the University of Florida, Florida Museum and the University of Adelaide.