Resolving taxonomic uncertainty in vulnerable elasmobranchs: are the Madeira skate (Raja maderensis) and the thornback ray (Raja clavata) distinct species?

Rachel E. Ball, Barbara Serra-Pereira, Jim Ellis, Martin J. Genner, Samuel Iglesias, Andrew F. Johnson, Catherine S. Jones, Rob Leslie, Jennifer Lewis, Stefano Mariani, Gui Menezes, Francis Neat, Leslie R. Noble, David W. Sims, Andrew M. Griffiths

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Skates and rays constitute the most speciose group of chondrichthyan fishes, yet are characterised by remarkable levels of morphological and ecological conservatism. They can be challenging to identify, which makes monitoring species compositions for fisheries management purposes problematic. Owing to their slow growth and low fecundity, skates are vulnerable to exploitation and species exhibiting endemism or limited ranges are considered to be the most at risk. The Madeira skate Raja maderensis is endemic and classified as ‘Data Deficient’ by the IUCN, yet its taxonomic distinctiveness from the morphologically similar and more wide-ranging thornback ray Raja clavata is unresolved. This study evaluated the sequence divergence of both the variable control region and cytochrome oxidase I ‘DNA barcode’ gene of the mitochondrial genome to elucidate the genetic differentiation of specimens identified as R. maderensis and R. clavata collected across much of their geographic ranges. Genetic evidence was insufficient to support the different species designations. However regardless of putative species identification, individuals occupying waters around the Azores and North African Seamounts represent an evolutionarily significant unit worthy of special consideration for conservation management.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)565-576
Number of pages12
JournalConservation Genetics
Issue number3
Early online date11 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016


  • phylogeography
  • population genetics
  • phylogenetics
  • D-Loop
  • fisheries management
  • marine conservation


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