The Chilean fjord region includes many remote and poorly known areas where management plans for the marine living resources and conservation strategies are urgently needed. Few data are available about the spatial distribution of its marine invertebrate fauna, prevalently influenced by complex interactions between biotic and abiotic factors, animal behavior and human activities. Patagonian fjords are a hotspot for finfish aquaculture, elevating Chile to the world’s second producer of farmed salmon, after Norway, a condition that emphasizes the necessity to develop strategies for a sustainable aquaculture management. The present study focuses on the emblematic cold-water coralDesmophyllum dianthus, dwelling the Comau Fjord from shallow to deep waters, with the aim to illustrate population structure, demography and adaptation of the species and its potential use for the development of a sustainable conservation and management plan for human activities. The analyses of microsatellite loci ofD. dianthusindividuals from four sampling localities along horizontal and vertical gradients of Comau Fjord, lead to identify them as a panmictic population. The results also contributed to consider a careful examination of the synchrony between the temporal and spatial variations of environmental factors and the biological cycle of the species as key role player in the inference of autecology of the species. The discussion stresses the importance of molecular analyses as extremely helpful tools for studies focusing on remote areas and non-model organisms, where logistic difficulties and limited scientific knowledge hamper a better management and conservation of marine resources, and in particular the relevance of multidisciplinary approaches to reduce the extensive knowledge gap on the remote fjord ecosystems of Patagonia. This study also highlights the importance of oceanographic information in the entire process of the analyses and interpretation of genetic results.


  • Marine biodiversity and unsustainable maritime activities cannot stand up together

  • The present study aims to assess the structure of Desmophyllum dianthus populations of the Comau Fjord, analyzing the genetic profile with microsatellite loci and the environmental condition of the fjord

  • The optimal values of genetic clusters K representing the genetic discontinuity among D. dianthus individuals from the Mediterranean Sea and Chile, and the clear genetic homogeneity of the four Chilean localities in the Comau Fjord were identified by the three approaches: highest mean lnPr(X| K) (Pritchard et al, 2000), K (Evanno et al, 2005), and MedMeaK, MaxMeaK, MedMedK, MaxMedK (Puechmaille, 2016; Supplementary Figure 1)

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Marine biodiversity and unsustainable maritime activities cannot stand up together. Efficient management plans are urgently needed. Comau Fjord, located in the northern Patagonia of Chile, is one the most exploited fjords along the Patagonian coast in term of maritime activities, which are mostly characterized by artisanal fishing (18%) and aquaculture (60%), which is a large industry in Chile (Fillinger and Richter, 2013; Soto et al, 2019). Many large and dense assemblages of Cold-Water Coral (CWC) communities were recorded in shallow water of Patagonian fjords (Försterra and Häussermann, 2003; Försterra et al, 2005; Häussermann and Försterra, 2007, 2014). Among them there is the emblematic cold-water coral Desmophyllum dianthus, dwelling Chilean Patagonian coast and the Comau Fjord from shallow to deep waters. In 2012, 99% of the D. dianthus specimens died along at least 15 km of the coast, probably after a large algal bloom in combination with exceptionally high efflux of harmful substances (methane and sulfide) enriched water from the cold vents due to increased salmon farming activity and volcanic activities, respectively (Försterra et al, 2014)

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