Despite the fact that the scientific literature indicated that it was a single species, a group of experts found new evidence. After various genetic analyses, the results of the work were published in the prestigious journal Ecology and Evolution.

The King Crab is a crustacean that inhabits depths close to 600 meters and is distributed mainly between the regions of Los Ríos and Magallanes. It can live up to 20 years, feeds on starfish, algae, mollusks, sea urchins and invertebrates from the seabed, and is considered a resource of great commercial importance for Chile.

The scientific literature indicated that in the southeastern area of the Pacific Ocean there was only one species of this animal. However, a recently published study in the prestigious scientific journal Ecology and Evolution confirmed the presence of two different lineages. To carry out the study, Ramona Pinochet, Dr. Miguel Pardo and Dra. Leyla Cárdenas, researchers from the Center for Dynamic Research in High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Austral University of Chile (UACh), gathered samples from 173 individuals in open waters in Valdivia, Metalqui, Cucao and Navarino Island, and in inland waters in the area of Calbuco, Tenún, Magdalena Sound, Águila Bay and Yendegaia Fjord.

“The king crab is one of the most important resources for the artisanal fishery. In addition, it is considered a unique species in the Southern Ocean, because it plays a fundamental ecological role in the subtidal community. From this point of view, the information obtained from our results can contribute to the adequate development of conservation strategies for their populations throughout their entire geographical distribution,” stated Dr. Cárdenas, dean of the Faculty of Sciences of the UACh and co-author of the work.

The experts used tests for nuclear markers, consisting of a fragment of DNA that is associated with a certain location within the nuclear genome. After this process, it was discovered that the species is in the process of speciation (formation of new species,) where the groups in an organism become reproductively isolated and diverge. These results were corroborated through species delimitation analyses, phylogenetic examinations, haplotype networks, and divergence times.

“The king crabs from the inland sea and those from the open Pacific coasts are morphologically different, but those differences do not necessarily have a genetic basis. Regardless of this, these groups should be considered different fishing stocks with their own regulation measures,” mentioned Dr. Pardo, director of the Graduate School of the Faculty of Sciences of the UACh and co-author of the research.

“Knowing the diversity and distribution of independent evolutionary units allows us to explore population events. In this way, by correctly defining the operational units, the management plans of the fishery can be improved,” concluded Ramona Pinochet, PhD candidate in Marine Biology at the UACh and author of the study.

Read the study here.