Genetic structure of the star sea squirt, Botryllus schlosseri, introduced in southern European harbours

Authors

  • SUSANNA LÓPEZ-LEGENTIL,

    1. Centre de Biologie et d’Ecologie Tropicale et Méditerranéenne, EPHE–FRE CNRS 2935, University of Perpignan, 66860 Perpignan, France,
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  • XAVIER TURON,

    1. Department of Animal Biology (Invertebrates), Faculty of Biology, University of Barcelona, 645 Diagonal Ave, 08028 Barcelona, Spain
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  • SERGE PLANES

    1. Centre de Biologie et d’Ecologie Tropicale et Méditerranéenne, EPHE–FRE CNRS 2935, University of Perpignan, 66860 Perpignan, France,
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  • †Present address: Center for Marine Science, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, 5600 Marvin K. Moss Lane, Wilmington NC 28409, USA.

Susanna López-Legentil, Fax: +1-910-9622410; E-mail: susanna@univ-perp.fr

Abstract

The introduction of new genetic variants or species is often caused by maritime transport between harbours. Botryllus schlosseri is a cosmopolitan ascidian species that is found in both harbours and open shore habitats. In order to determine the influence of ship traffic on the genetic structure and phylogeography of B. schlosseri in southern Europe, we analyzed the variability of a fragment of the mitochondrial gene cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI). We sampled seven Atlanto-Mediterranean harbour populations and three open-shore populations. In addition, we sequenced some colonies from the US-Atlantic coast and from other Mediterranean localities to perform phylogenetic analyses. Although the number of polymorphic sites recorded (25.8%) was within the range observed in other population studies based on ascidian COI sequences, the haplotypic diversity (16 haplotypes out of 181 sequences) was much lower. Moreover, a lack of intermediate haplotypes was observed. This pattern of high nucleotide diversity and low haplotype diversity was consistent with introduction events of a few divergent haplotypes. We found a strong genetic structure in the study populations. Gene flow was only appreciable between some harbour populations. Harbour- and open-shore populations were well differentiated, although there was no evidence for isolation by distance. A nested clade analysis pointed to long-distance colonization, possibly coupled with subsequent fragmentation, as the underlying process. Our results suggest that B. schlosseri entered the study area via harbour-hopping, possibly through recurrent introduction events. The haplotypes from North America and most of the European ones were grouped in the same phylogenetic clade. This suggests occasional gene flow between both continents, probably through ship transport.

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