To date, molecular markers have not settled the question of the specific status of the closely related, but phylogenetically unresolved, brown seaweeds, hermaphroditic Fucus spiralis and dioecious Fucus vesiculosus, nor their propensity for natural hybridization. To test the degree of species integrity and to assess effect of the mating system on the population genetic structure, 288 individuals coming from parapatric (discontinuous) and sympatric (contiguous) spatial configurations at two sites were genotyped with five microsatellite loci. Using a Bayesian admixture analysis, our results show that F. spiralis and F. vesiculosus comprise clearly distinct genetic entities (clusters) generally characterized by cosexual and unisexual individuals, respectively. Genetic diversity within each entity suggests that F. spiralis reproduces primarily through selfing while F. vesiculosus is characterized by an endogamous breeding regime. Nevertheless, aberrant sexual phenotypes were observed in each cluster, no diagnostic alleles were revealed and 10% of study individuals were intermediate between the two genetic entities. This pattern can be explained by recent divergence of two taxa with retention of ancestral polymorphism or asymmetrical, introgressive hybridization. However, given (i) coincident monomorphism at three loci in spiralis clusters and (ii) that significantly more intermediates were observed in sympatric stations than in parapatric stations, we argue that interspecific gene flow has occurred after divergence of the two taxa. Finally, we show that whether recently separated or recently introgressive, the divergent breeding systems probably contribute to species integrity in these two taxa.
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