The native range of the blue crab
Callinectes sapidusspans Nova Scotia to northern Argentina. In the US, it constitutes a keystone species in estuarine habitats of the Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico (GOM), serving as both predator and prey to other species, and also has historically represented a multi-billion dollar fishery. Knowledge relevant to effective management and monitoring of this ecologically and economically important species, such as levels of population genetic differentiation and genetic diversity, is necessary. Although several population genetics studies have attempted to address these questions in one or more parts of its distribution, conflicting results and potential problems with the markers used, as well as other issues, have obscured our understanding on them. In this study, we examined large-scale genetic connectivity of the blue crab in the US, using 16 microsatellites, and genotyped individuals from Chesapeake Bay, in the US Atlantic, and from nine localities along the US GOM coast. Consistent with the high long-distance dispersal potential of this species, very low levels of genetic differentiation were detected for the blue crab among the ten US localities examined, suggesting it constitutes a large panmictic population within this region. Estimations of genetic diversity for the blue crab appear to be high in the US, and provide a baseline for monitoring temporal changes in this species. Demographic analyses indicate a recent range expansion of the US population, probably during the Holocene. In addition, capitalizing on published microsatellite data from southern Brazil, our analyses detected high genetic differentiation between localities in the US and Brazil. These results point to the need for examination of genetic diversity and differentiation along the area spanning the US to southern Brazil.