The spiny lobster Panulirus argus is an important fishery species in the Western Central Atlantic. Changes in the dispersion range through its life cycle and heterogeneous habitats, suggest that P. argus exhibit phenotypic plasticity. However, the morphometric variation of this species is unknown so far, although this information is relevant in evolutionary studies as well as to solve questions of fishery interest. Thus, the aim of this study was to determine whether P. argus exhibit phenotypic variation between sexes, among five geographic origins and three oceanographic conditions of Southwest Caribbean (Colombian archipelago San Andrés, Providencia y Santa Catalina). A total of 193 P. argus adults were submitted to geometric morphometrics using six landmarks that delimit one half of the sternal plate. The differences in sternal plate size were compared with Kruskal-Wallis and Mann-Whitney Tests. The allometric effect was estimated using Multivariate Regression Analysis, the model of allometric slopes was tested by Multivariate analysis of covariance and the sternal plate shape differences was explored using non-parametric comparisons of Euclidian distances and Neighbour Joinnig trees. The results showed that the morphometric variation of sternal plate of this spiny lobster varied according to the gender since the sexual size and shape dimorphisms were significant. In both sexes, the sternal plate shape differed among oceanographic scenarios as it was evidenced by significant differences among Euclidian distances, and the tendency to cluster by North, Centre and South sections of San Andrés archipelago. Additionally, the morphometric variation resulting from phenotypic plasticity to variable ecological contexts may explain the phenotypic differences among genetically similar populations. This information permits to define management units, support the selection of regulatory policies of this fishery and complement the genetic analysis of the species in this Caribbean region.
Keywords: geometric morphometrics, geometric morphology, phenotypic plasticity, Caribbean spiny lobster, phenotypic stocks, fishery management.