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Williams College

Publication Date

Fall 2012

Program Name

Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation


Genetic connectivity between three populations of the common reef sea urchin, Echinometra lucunter located in fringing reefs off the islands of Ukuptupu, Wichupwala and Porvenir in western Guna Yala was analyzed to give insight into population distribution and the most effective conservation management plans for the area. The reefs of Guna Yala are facing many threats on a global or regional scale including global warming, ocean acidification, sea level rise, disease and severe storms. On a local level, increasing stress is being placed on these reef ecosystems from human activity including coral mining, overfishing, and pollution. In order to prevent further decline and maintain the health and biodiversity of these important ecosystems, a comprehensive management plan must be developed soon.

Data collected on the morphological characteristic of test diameter in Echinometra lucunter over two weeks in November, 2012, showed that on a small scale (from 100- 650 m) several distinct and geographically separated reefs exist that are demographically differentiated. These populations appear to show some level of immigration between sites but are clearly not a continuous population. The reefs may form a continuous chain along which gradients of genetic material exist. These findings indicate that in Guna Yala population differentiation occurs on a very small scale and may form functional units of genetically connected populations that can replenish and support each other in times of disruption. Further studies using molecular markers should study the genetic connectivity between more sites and with more research organisms to define these functional geographical units. With the support of the Kuna communities and the Kuna General Congress, networks of Marine Protected Areas should be created to ensure the long term health and sustainability of the Guna Yala reefs.


Environmental Sciences | Marine Biology | Natural Resources and Conservation



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