Adaptation and dispersal of Jasus lobsters

James Cook University - Australia

The factors driving historical and contemporary evolution in wild populations are still largely unknown. One of the main challenges in evolutionary biology is to determine how landscape-level geographical and environmental features influence the distribution of this functional adaptive genetic variation. Lobsters from the genus Jasus are a morphologically homogeneous group of ecological and economic importance. These animals have a very long pelagic larval duration (up to 2 years), with the potential for extensive dispersal (Bradford et al. 2015). However, in contrast to predictions all species have a limited distribution and for example J. caveorum has only been found in one single seamount in the eastern South Pacific Ocean (Webber & Booth 1995). Complex fluctuating oceanography such as currents and eddies can influence the genetic partitioning of these species but the factors driving diversification and adaptation of Jasus lobsters are unknown.

The genus is at least as old as the lower Miocene (15-23 Ma) and its origin can be explained by shifts of the southern circumpolar temperate belt towards higher latitudes (George, 1967). Currently, the Jasus genus consists in six species: Jasus edwardsii, J. paulensis, J. caveorum, J. frontalis, J. tristani and J. lalandii (Booth 2006).

Map of Jasus lobster distribution.
Approximate distribution of the extant species of Jasus, after Phillips (2006). Orange: Jasus caveorum pink: Jasus frontalis red: Jasus tristani yellow: Jasus lalandii blue: Jasus paulensis green: Jasus edwardsii References: Bruce F. Phillips (2006) Lobsters: Biology, Management, Aquaculture and Fisheries, John Wiley & Sons, p. 236 ISBN: 9781405126571.

Ocean circulation patterns have been changing (e.g. the poleward-flowing East Australian Current) which may affect species dispersal. With a warming climate, native species such as the rock lobsters J. edwardsii may shift poleward while chasing their thermal niche. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the processes responsible for the diversification of these species and their potential for adaptation to environmental change.

Map of Jasus lobster distribution.
Estimates of connectivity between populations of lobsters using the software BayesAss, a Bayesian method for use with genome-wide markers (SNPs). Circular plot generated using the “circlize” package in R.

This project is funded by a ARC Discovery Grant “Lost at sea? Understanding adaptation and dispersal in spiny lobsters” awarded to Jan Strugnell, Bridget Green and Nicholas Murphy in collaboration with James Bell.


Booth JD (2006) Jasus species. In “Lobsters: Biology, Management, Aquaculture and Fisheries”. (Ed.B. F. Phillips.). Blackwell Scientific Publications: Oxford.

Bradford RW, Griffin D, Bruce BD (2015) Estimating the duration of the pelagic phyllosoma phase of the southern rock lobster, Jasus edwardsii (Hutton). Marine and Freshwater Research, 66, 213–219.

George RW (1967) Natural distribution and speciation of marine animals. J. R. SOC. West. Aus., 52, 33–40.

Webber WR, Booth JD (1995) A new species of Jasus (Crustacea: Decapoda: Palinuridae) from the eastern South Pacific Ocean. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 29, 613–622.

Cover photo: Stemonitis