The Bering Strait connection: dispersal and speciation in boreal macroalgae
A large number of boreal seaweeds have either sibling species or conspecific populations of a single species in the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans. This pattern is thought to have arisen from the dispersal between the two oceans through the Arctic Ocean after the opening of the Bering Strait in the mid-to-late Miocene or earliest Pliocene and from subsequent vicariant speciation as the Arctic Ocean froze and Bering Strait closed intermittently during glacial periods. Recent molecular studies of species in all three major seaweed phyla reveal patterns of vicariance. However, a number of lines of evidence point to differences in origins of these clades; some appear to be Pacific in origin whereas others appear to be derived from Atlantic stock. Different origins can be explained by recent stratigraphic finds that push the first Cenozoic opening of the Bering Strait back from 3.1–4.1 to 4.8–7.4 Ma (million years ago). Northern hemisphere ocean circulation models suggest that water flow would have been from the North Atlantic–Arctic south through the Bering Strait prior to the closure of the Panamanian Isthmus c. 3.5 Ma in contrast to the northward flow from the Pacific into the Arctic and North Atlantic, which developed after the closing of the Isthmus. Despite these differences in timing of the two invasions, there are no significant differences in levels of relationships among species with a North Atlantic origin compared with species with a North Pacific origin based on currently available data. More work is required to understand vicariance in seaweeds, especially in deciphering when a speciation event has occurred.