• molecular markers;
  • migration;
  • connectivity;
  • sex-biased dispersal –Dicentrarchus labrax

The European sea bass Dicentrarchus labrax represents a historically and commercially valuable species in the north-east Atlantic, although the demographic history and the patterns of geographical structure of the species in the north-east Atlantic remain poorly understood. The present study investigates the population genetic structure of sea bass in north-western European waters, employing different genetic markers [a portion of the mitochondrial (mt)DNA control region and 13 nuclear microsatellites] aiming to unravel demographic history and population connectivity. The results obtained show a previously unrecognized pattern of population divergence at mtDNA, with three strikingly different lineages identified. Extant sea bass populations, including the Mediterranean lineage, derive from an Atlantic ancestor. A much increased number of nuclear microsatellite loci (comparatively to previous studies) still fail to detect biologically meaningful patterns of spatial genetic structuring in the North Atlantic. Past Pleistocene glacial and interglacial events and some degree of female philopatry might be at the basis of the current geographical separation of the Atlantic lineages that has been identified. Signatures of sudden demographic expansions are more evident in the most recent mitochondrial lineages, and their slight, yet significant, geographical segregation leads to the hypothesis that present-day spawning grounds for European sea bass may still to some extent be linked to their most recent glacial refugia. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2011, 104, 364–377.