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Fine-scale genetic structure, estuarine colonization and incipient speciation in the marine silverside fish Odontesthes argentinensis


L. B. Beheregaray. ‡Present address: Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520–8106, USA. Fax: 203–432–6066; E-mail:


The idengification of incipient ecological species represents an opportunity to investigate current evolutionary process where adaptive divergence and reproductive isolation are associated. In this study we analysed the genetic structure of marine and estuarine populations of the silverside fish Odontesthes argentinensis using nine microsatellite loci and 396 bp of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region. Our main objective was to investigate the relationship among estuarine colonization, divergent selection and speciation in silversides. Significant genetic structure was detected among all marine and estuarine populations. Despite the low phylogeographic structure in mtDNA haplotypes, there was clear signal of local radiations of haplotypes in more ancient populations. Divergence among marine populations was interpreted as a combined result of homing behaviour, isolation by distance and drift. On the other hand, ecological shifts due to the colonization of estuarine habitats seem to have promoted rapid adaptive divergence and reproductive isolation in estuarine populations, which were considered as incipient ecological species. This conclusion is supported by the existence of a set of environmental factors required for successful reproduction of estuarine ecotypes. The pattern of genetic structure indicates that phenotypic and reproductive divergence evolved in the face of potential gene flow between populations. We suggest that the ‘divergence-with-gene-flow’ model of speciation may account for the diversification of estuarine populations. The approach used can potentially idengify ‘incipient estuarine species’, being relevant to the investigation of the evolutionary relationships of silversides in several coastal regions of the world.