Pelagic dispersal of marine organisms provides abundant opportunity for gene flow and presumably inhibits population genetic divergence. However, ephemeral, fine-scale, temporal and spatial genetic heterogeneity is frequently observed in settled propagules of marine species that otherwise exhibit broad-scale genetic homogeneity. A large variance in reproductive success is one explanation for this phenomenon. Here, genetic analyses of 16 microsatellite loci are used to examine temporal patterns of variation in young-of-year kelp rockfish (Sebastes atrovirens) recruiting to nearshore habitat in Monterey Bay, California, USA. Population structure of adults from central California is also evaluated to determine if spatial structure exists and might potentially contribute to recruitment patterns. Genetic homogeneity was found among 414 young-of-year sampled throughout the entire 1998 recruitment season. No substantial adult population structure was found among seven populations spanning 800 km of coastline that includes the Point Conception marine biogeographic boundary. Comparison of young-of-year and adult samples revealed no genetic differentiation and no measurable reduction in genetic variation of offspring, indicating little variance in reproductive success and no reduction in effective population size for this year class. Simulation analyses determined that the data set was sufficiently powerful to detect both slight population structure among adults and a small reduction in effective number of breeders contributing to this year class. The findings of high gene flow and low genetic drift have important implications for fisheries management and conservation efforts.
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