Designing appropriate management plans requires knowledge of both the dispersal ability and what has shaped the current distribution of the species under consideration. Here we investigated the evolutionary history of the endangered grey reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) across its range by sequencing thousands of RAD-seq loci in 173 individuals in the Indo-Pacific (IP) . We first bring evidence of the occurrence of a range expansion (RE) originating close to the Indo-Australian Archipelago (IAA) where two stepping-stone waves (east and westward) colonized almost the entire IP. Coalescent modeling additionally highlighted a homogenous connectivity (Nm~10 per generation) throughout the range, and an isolation by distance model suggested the absence of barriers to dispersal despite the affinity of C. amblyrhynchos to coral reefs. This coincides with long-distance swims previously recorded, suggesting that the strong genetic structure at the IP scale (FST ~ 0.56 between its ends) is the consequence of its broad current distribution and organization in a large number of demes. Our results strongly suggest that management plans for the grey reef shark should be designed on a range-wide rather than a local scale due to its continuous genetic structure. We further contrasted these results with those obtained previously for the sympatric but strictly lagoon-associated Carcharhinus melanopterus, known for its restricted dispersal ability. C. melanopterus exhibits similar RE dynamic, but is characterized by stronger genetic structure and a non-homogeneous connectivity largely dependent on local coral reefs availability. This sheds new light on shark evolution, emphasizing the roles of IAA as source of biodiversity and of life history traits in shaping the extent of genetic structure and diversity.
Dispersal abilities play a crucial role in shaping the extent of population genetic structure, with more mobile species being panmictic over large geographic ranges and less mobile ones organized in meta-populations exchanging migrants to different degrees. In turn, population structure directly influences the coalescence pattern of the sampled lineages, but the consequences on the estimated variation of the effective population size (Ne) over time obtained by means of unstructured demographic models remain poorly understood. However, this knowledge is crucial for biologically interpreting the observed Ne trajectory and further devising conservation strategies in endangered species. Here we investigated the demographic history of four shark species (Carharhinus melanopterus, Carharhinus limbatus, Carharhinus amblyrhynchos, Galeocerdo cuvier) with different degrees of endangered status and life history traits related to dispersal distributed in the Indo-Pacific and sampled off New Caledonia. We compared several evolutionary scenarios representing both structured (meta-population) and unstructured models and then inferred the Ne variation through time. By performing extensive coalescent simulations, we provided a general framework relating the underlying population structure and the observed Ne dynamics. On this basis, we concluded that the recent decline observed in three out of the four considered species when assuming unstructured demographic models can be explained by the presence of population structure. Furthermore, we also demonstrated the limits of the inferences based on the sole site frequency spectrum and warn that statistics based on linkage disequilibrium will be needed to exclude recent demographic events affecting meta-populations.