This study investigated the influence of reproductive strategy (benthic or pelagic eggs) and habitat preferences (lagoon or outer slope) on both diversity and genetic differentiation using a set of populations of seven coral reef fish species over different geographic scales within French Polynesia. We hypothesized that a Holocene sea-level decrease contributed to severe reduction of population size for species inhabiting lagoons and a subsequent decrease of genetic diversity. Conversely, we proposed that species inhabiting stable environments, such as the outer slope, should demonstrate higher genetic diversity but also more structured populations because they have potentially reached a migration-genetic drift equilibrium. Sequences of the 5′ end of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region were compared among populations sampled in five isolated islands within two archipelagos of French Polynesia. For all the species, no significant divergences among populations were found. Significant differences in mtDNA diversity between lagoonal and outer-slope species were demonstrated both for haplotype diversity and sequence divergence but none were found between species with different egg types. Pairwise mismatch distributions suggested rapid population growth for all the seven species involved in this study, but they revealed different distributions, depending on the habitat preference of the species. Although several scenarios can explain the observed patterns, the hypothesis of population size reduction events relative to Holocene sea-level regression and its consequence on French Polynesia coral reefs is the most parsimonious. Outer-slope species have undergone a probable weak and/or old bottleneck (outer reefs persisted during low sea level, leading to reef area reductions), whereas lagoonal species suffered a strong and/or recent bottleneck since Holocene sea-level regression resulted in the drying out of all the atolls that are maximum 70 meters deep. Since present sea level was reached between 5000 and 6000 years ago, different demographic events (bottlenecks or founder events) have lead to the actual populations of lagoons in French Polynesia.
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Vol. 57 • No. 7