The KwaZulu-Natal sardine run, popularly known as the “greatest shoal on Earth,” is a mass migration of South African sardines from their temperate core range into the subtropical Indian Ocean. It has been suggested that this represents the spawning migration of a distinct subtropical stock. Using genomic and transcriptomic data from sardines collected around the South African coast, we identified two stocks, one cool temperate (Atlantic) and the other warm temperate (Indian Ocean). Unexpectedly, we found that sardines participating in the sardine run are primarily of Atlantic origin and thus prefer colder water. These sardines separate from the warm-temperate stock and move into temporarily favorable Indian Ocean habitat during brief cold-water upwelling periods. Once the upwelling ends, they find themselves trapped in physiologically challenging subtropical habitat and subject to intense predation pressure. This makes the sardine run a rare example of a mass migration that has no apparent fitness benefits.
- mass migration