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Genetic population structure of turbot (Scophthalmus maximus L.) supports the presence of multiple hybrid zones for marine fishes in the transition zone between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea

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Abstract

Genetic population structure of turbot (Scophthalmus maximus L.) in the Northeast Atlantic was investigated using eight highly variable microsatellite loci. In total 706 individuals from eight locations with temporal replicates were assayed, covering an area from the French Bay of Biscay to the Aaland archipelago in the Baltic Sea. In contrast to previous genetic studies of turbot, we found significant genetic differentiation among samples with a maximum pairwise FST of 0.032. Limited or no genetic differentiation was found among samples within the Atlantic/North Sea area and within the Baltic Sea, suggesting high gene flow among populations in these areas. In contrast, there was a sharp cline in genetic differentiation going from the low saline Baltic Sea to the high saline North Sea. The data were explained best by two divergent populations connected by a hybrid zone; however, a mechanical mixing model could not be ruled out. A significant part of the genetic variance could be ascribed to variation among years within locality. Nevertheless, the population structure was relatively stable over time, suggesting that the observed pattern of genetic differentiation is biologically significant. This study suggests that hybrid zones are a common phenomenon for marine fishes in the transition area between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea and highlights the importance of using interspecific comparisons for inferring population structure in high gene flow species such as most marine fishes.

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