Catfishes of the family Pangasiidae are an important group that contributes significantly to the fisheries of the Mekong River basin. In recent times the populations of several catfish species have declined, thought to be due to overfishing and habitat changes brought about by anthropogenic influences. The Mekong giant catfish Pangasianodon gigas Chevey, 1913 is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. In the present study, we assessed the level of genetic diversity of nine catfish species using sequences of the large subunit of mitochondrial DNA (16S rRNA). Approximately 570 base pairs (bp) were sequenced from 672 individuals of nine species. In all species studied, haplotype diversity and nucleotide diversity ranged from 0.118±0.101 to 0.667±0.141 and from 0.0002±0.0003 to 0.0016±0.0013, respectively. Four haplotypes were detected among 16 samples from natural populations of the critically endangered Mekong giant catfish. The results, in spite of the limited sample size for some species investigated, indicated that the level of genetic variation observed in wild populations of the Mekong giant catfish (haplotype diversity=0.350±0.148, nucleotide diversity=0.0009±0.0008) is commensurate with that of some other related species. This finding indicates that (1) wild populations of the Mekong giant catfish might be more robust than currently thought or (2) present wild populations of this species carry a genetic signature of the historically larger population(s). Findings from this study also have important implications for conservation of the Mekong giant catfish, especially in designing and implementing artificial breeding programme for restocking purposes.
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