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Keywords:

  • Biogeography;
  • Donax deltoides ;
  • gene flow;
  • life history;
  • microsatellites;
  • mitochondrial DNA;
  • population structure;
  • southeastern Australia

Abstract

Major disjunctions among marine communities in southeastern Australia have been well documented, although explanations for biogeographic structuring remain uncertain. Converging ocean currents, environmental gradients, and habitat discontinuities have been hypothesized as likely drivers of structuring in many species, although the extent to which species are affected appears largely dependent on specific life histories and ecologies. Understanding these relationships is critical to the management of native and invasive species, and the preservation of evolutionary processes that shape biodiversity in this region. In this study we test the direct influence of ocean currents on the genetic structure of a passive disperser across a major biogeographic barrier. Donax deltoides (Veneroida: Donacidae) is an intertidal, soft-sediment mollusc and an ideal surrogate for testing this relationship, given its lack of habitat constraints in this region, and its immense dispersal potential driven by year-long spawning and long-lived planktonic larvae. We assessed allele frequencies at 10 polymorphic microsatellite loci across 11 sample locations spanning the barrier region and identified genetic structure consistent with the major ocean currents of southeastern Australia. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA sequence data indicated no evidence of genetic structuring, but signatures of a species range expansion corresponding with historical inundations of the Bassian Isthmus. Our results indicate that ocean currents are likely to be the most influential factor affecting the genetic structure of D. deltoides and a likely physical barrier for passive dispersing marine fauna generally in southeastern Australia.