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The Baltic Sea as a model system for studying postglacial colonization and ecological differentiation, exemplified by the red alga Ceramium tenuicorne


Tove M. Gabrielsen. Fax: +47 22854438; E-mail:


The Baltic Sea provides a unique model system for studying genetic effects of postglacial colonization and ecological differentiation, because all marine organisms must have immigrated after the opening of the Danish Straits 8000 years ago and responded to the development of the steep Skagerrak-Baltic salinity gradient. The red alga Ceramium tenuicorne shows conspicuous variation in growth and reproduction along this gradient. Herein we obtained reproductive data coupled with two types of molecular markers, one organellar (cox2–3 spacer sequences of mitochondrial DNA; mtDNA) and one mainly nuclear (random amplified polymorphic DNAs; RAPDs). Nine main populations were sampled in a nested spatial hierarchy including three salinity regions (Oslofjorden, Kattegat, and the Baltic Sea), and nine additional populations were sampled for the mtDNA analysis. Asexuality was frequent at low (Baltic) and medium (Kattegat) salinities but virtually absent at the highest salinity (Oslofjorden). Five mtDNA haplotypes were observed, of which two highly divergent ones were common. One was restricted to and fixed in Oslofjorden, and the other, which was closely related to the three rare haplotypes, was found from southernmost Norway via Kattegat into the Baltic. The RAPD data revealed, on the other hand, a continuous cline corresponding to the salinity gradient, with 27.4% divergence among salinity regions and most of the variation stored at the smallest spatial scale analysed (64.2%; within 1 m2 subpopulations). The combined data suggest colonization from a diverse Atlantic glacial gene pool followed by (1) lineage sorting of ancestral mtDNA polymorphisms and (2) strong differential selection among nuclear genotypes along the salinity gradient, including selection for nonrecombinant multiplication of those best fit to the marginal low-salinity habitats.