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Pleistocene isolation and recent gene flow in Haliotis asinina, an Indo-Pacific vetigastropod with limited dispersal capacity


Sandie M. Degnan, School of Integrative Biology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Qld 4072, Australia. Fax: 61-7-3365 1655; E-mail:


Haliotis asinina is a broadcast-spawning mollusc that inhabits Indo-Pacific coral reefs. This tropical abalone develops through a nonfeeding larval stage that is competent to settle on specific species of coralline algae after 3–4 days in the plankton. Failure to contact an inductive algae within 10 days of hatching usually results in death. These life cycle characteristics suggest a limited capacity for dispersal and thus gene flow. This makes H. asinina particularly suitable for elucidating phylogeographical structure throughout the Indo-Malay Archipelagoes, and eastern Indian and western Pacific Oceans, all regions of biogeographical complexity and high conservation value. We assayed 482 bp of the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase II gene in 206 abalone collected from 16 geographically discrete sites across the Indian and Pacific Oceans and Indo-Malay Archipelagoes. DNA sequence variation was analysed via population genetics and phylogenetics, and by nested clade analyses (NCA). Our data resolved clear phylogeographical breaks among major biogeographical regions, with sequence divergences ranging from a high of 3.7% and 3.0% between Indian and Pacific sites and Pacific and Indo-Malay sites, respectively, to a low of 1.1% between Indian and Indo-Malay sites. Despite the apparent limited dispersal capacity of H. asinina, no finer scale phylogeographical structure was resolved within the respective biogeographical regions. However, amova and NCA identified several significant associations between haplotypes and geographical distribution, most notably higher gene flow among geographical populations associated with major ocean currents. Our study provides further evidence that larval dispersal capacity alone is not a good predictor of population genetic structure in marine invertebrates. We infer instead that a combination of historical events (long–term barriers followed by range expansion associated with Pleistocene sea level changes) and contemporary processes (gene flow restricted by life history and oceanography) have shaped observed patterns of H. asinina phylogeography.