• Gadus morhua;
  • gene flow;
  • genetic differentiation;
  • local populations;
  • microsatellites


Compared with many terrestrial and freshwater environments, dispersal and interbreeding is generally much less restricted in the marine environment. We studied the tendency for a marine species, the Atlantic cod, to be sub-structured into genetically differentiated populations on a fine geographical scale. We selected a coastal area free of any obvious physical barriers and restricted sampling to a 300-km region, well within the dispersal ability of this species. Screening 10 polymorphic microsatellite loci in 6 samples we detected a weak, but consistent, differentiation at all 10 loci. The average FST over loci was small (0.0023) but highly significant statistically, demonstrating that genetically differentiated populations can arise and persist in the absence of physical barriers or great distance. We found no geographical pattern in the genetic differentiation and there was no apparent trend of isolation by distance along the coastline. These findings lend support to the notion that low levels of differentiation are due to passive transport of eggs or larvae by the ocean currents rather than to adult dispersal, the latter being strongly dependent on distance.