Contrasting patterns of population structure in commercially fished sawsharks from southern Australian waters

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In the waters of southeast Australia, two species of sawshark—the common (Pristiophorus cirratus) and southern (Pristiophorus nudipinnis) sawshark—are frequent by-catch in commercial fisheries. While harvesting of both species is currently considered sustainable, there has been no investigation of whether P. cirratus and P. nudipinnis display genetically distinct populations throughout their ranges. Such information is necessary for effective management of these species in commercial fisheries. This study examined population structure in both sawshark species through analysis of two mitochondrial genes: cytochrome b (Cyt-b) and NADH dehydrogenase subunit 5 (ND5). Results indicated contrasting levels of population structure, with P. cirratus consisting of two, possibly three, genetically distinct populations with two mitochondrial lineages and P. nudipinnis consisting of a single population. Tests for population expansion also highlighted differences between the two species. Population expansion was detected for the entire P. nudipinnis population, whereas this was only the case for one mitochondrial lineage in P. cirratus. The entire P. cirratus population displayed signals of demographic stability. It is hypothesised that the opening and closing of Bass Strait during glacial-interglacial cycles played a major role in shaping the population structure and expansion signatures observed in this study. Mitochondrial data also suggest that patterned and uniform brown P. cirratus are the same species. Fisheries managers should consider adopting two management units in southern Australia—one along the east coast (for the eastern P. cirratus population) and one along the south coast (for the southern P. cirratus population and the single P. nudipinnis population).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-379
Number of pages21
JournalReviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • Biogeography
  • Demersal elasmobranchs
  • Fisheries management
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Population genetics
  • Pristiophoridae

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