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Drifting fronds and drifting alleles: range dynamics, local dispersal and habitat isolation shape the population structure of the estuarine seaweed Fucus ceranoides

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Aim  The seaweed Fucus ceranoides is restricted to spatially discrete estuarine habitats and lacks planktonic dispersal phases; it is therefore expected to exhibit strong population differentiation. Its cold‐temperate affinities and mtDNA variation imply that the northern part of the species’ range, where F. ceranoides is now ubiquitous, was recently colonized after the onset of the last deglaciation, potentially resulting in areas with greater genetic homogeneity. Here we examine the population structure of F. ceranoides to test these predictions, emphasizing the contrasting genetic signatures of limited dispersal in refugial versus recently colonized regions.

Location  North‐eastern Atlantic estuaries from Portugal to Norway.

Methods  A total of 504 individuals from 21 estuarine sites spanning the entire range of F. ceranoides were sampled and genotyped for nine microsatellite loci. Population structure was inferred from several genotypic and allele‐frequency analyses. Geographical patterns of genetic diversity were used to reconstruct the historical biogeography of the species.

Results  Genetic diversity and regional population differentiation showed a consistent decline with increasing latitude. Southernmost populations harboured most of the endemic variation, whereas the northern populations (> 55° N) were almost fixed for the same alleles across loci. In southern and central regions of its distribution, F. ceranoides showed striking population subdivision, with many of the sampled estuaries corresponding to coherent genetic units that were easily discriminated from one another with standard clustering methods.

Main conclusions  The geographical pattern of genetic diversity supports the long‐term refugial status of Iberia and a post‐glacial range expansion of F. ceranoides into previously glaciated latitudes. Despite the species’ capacity to colonize newly available habitats, the genetic structure of F. ceranoides outside the recently (re)colonized range reveals that gene flow between populations is extremely low. This study provides a remarkable example of how infrequent and spatially limited dispersal can have contrasting effects at the scales of meta‐population (connectivity) versus range dynamics (habitat tracking), and of how dispersal restrictions can result in either genetic divergence or homogeneity depending on the maturity and demographic conditions of the populations.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Centro de Ciências do Mar, Centro de Investigação Marinha e Ambiental – Laboratório Associado, Universidade do Algarve, Gambelas, 8005-139 Faro, Portugal 2: Unité Mixte de Recherche 7144, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique/Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Station Biologique de Roscoff, Place Georges-Teissier, BP 74, 29682 Roscoff Cedex, France

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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