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Marine landscapes and population genetic structure of herring (Clupea harengus L.) in the Baltic Sea


Michael M. Hansen, Fax: +45 89 21 31; E-mail:


Numerically small but statistically significant genetic differentiation has been found in many marine fish species despite very large census population sizes and absence of obvious barriers to migrating individuals. Analyses of morphological traits have previously identified local spawning groups of herring (Clupea harengus L.) in the environmentally heterogeneous Baltic Sea, whereas allozyme markers have not revealed differentiation. We analysed variation at nine microsatellite loci in 24 samples of spring-spawning herring collected at 11 spawning locations throughout the Baltic Sea. Significant temporal differentiation was observed at two locations, which we ascribe to sympatrically spawning but genetically divergent ‘spawning waves’. Significant differentiation was also present on a geographical scale, though pairwise FST values were generally low, not exceeding 0.027. Partial Mantel tests showed no isolation by geographical distance, but significant associations were observed between genetic differentiation and environmental parameters (salinity and surface temperature) (0.001 < P≤ 0.099), though these outcomes were driven mainly by populations in the southwestern Baltic Sea, which also exhibits the steepest environmental gradients. Application of a novel method for detecting barriers to gene flow by combining geographical coordinates and genetic differentiation allowed us to identify two zones of lowered gene flow. These zones were concordant with the separation of the Baltic Sea into major basins, with environmental gradients and with differences in migration behaviour. We suggest that similar use of landscape genetics approaches may increase the understanding of the biological significance of genetic differentiation in other marine fishes.

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