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As reported by the University of Edinburgh, new DNA insights could help protect the planet’s population of manta rays.


In recent months, a scientist-led state of the art DNA mapping program focused on these gentle ocean giants has led to some fascinating discoveries! The genetic study supports past evidence that a separate but similar species of manta ray is living in the Gulf of Mexico. This, in turn, may indicate that vital improvements are needed for our current conservation strategies to remain successful. 

The research highlights subtle differences in the genetic make-up between populations of manta rays found in different geographical areas. This suggests that assigning protection based solely on a species’ classification might not be as effective as previously believed - as different regions around the world will pose different and distinct threats to these peaceful oceanic acrobats.


Genetic research

The research highlights subtle differences in the genetic make-up between populations of manta rays found in different geographical areas. This suggests that assigning protection based solely on a species’ classification might not be as effective as previously believed - as different regions around the world will pose different and distinct threats to these peaceful oceanic acrobats.


During their study, an international team of scientists collated a large, diverse bank of genetic data on ray species - with tissue samples from over 100 individuals used during DNA analysis. Then, a comparison between the species’ genetic backgrounds was used to establish an evolutionary family tree, further analysis revealed the possibility of a new species.  


Future studies may provide additional data based on habitat and genetic background that will hopefully support the naming of a brand new manta species - living in a totally different part of the planet!

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DNA Insights could protect Manta Rays

For scientists, these findings are especially important for providing a framework to aid protection efforts when it comes to manta, mobula, and devil species around the world. Sadly, these animals are specifically threatened by commercial fishing, and sadly become frequent victims of bycatch. And, because individual mantas are found all around the world, a one-size-fits-all approach to conservation simply won’t work.

In fact, evidence of diversity or subspecies among manta rays suggests that our previous conservation approaches likely aren’t enough to protect isolated populations and individuals. So, researchers are proposing that conservation management should be reimagined, offering equal protection for rays in geographically separated populations. And, the first step toward making this change is defining distinct populations within the species. 


Conservation management relies on classifying species into specific categories. And, for visually similar and elusive animals such as manta and devil rays, this can be challenging. But, this study illustrates the potential for technology to better define diversity both within and between species. Now, the priority is further study and a formal description of this potential species, and others that may still remain undiscovered. 


This study was co-led by Bangor University, the Royal School of Veterinary Studies, the Roslin Institute, and Manta Trust - one of the planet’s leading authorities on these enigmatic and endangered animals