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Trans-Arctic dispersals and the evolution of a circumpolar marine fish species complex, the capelin (Mallotus villosus)


Correspondance: J. J. Dodson, Fax: 418-656-2043; E-mail:


Trans-Arctic dispersals and population and range expansions during the Pleistocene enhanced opportunities for evolutionary diversification and contributed to the process of speciation within the capelin, a northern marine-fish complex exhibiting a circumpolar distribution. Capelin is composed of four highly divergent and geographically discrete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) clades (609 bp; cytochrome b). Two clades occur in the North Atlantic, one associated with Canadian Atlantic waters, including Hudson Bay, and the second distributed from West Greenland to the Barents Sea. Two additional clades occur in the Arctic and northeast Pacific Oceans, representing the most recent divergence within the capelin phylogenetic tree. Judged from mtDNA diversity, capelin populations comprising all clades experienced at least one demographic and spatial reduction–expansion episode during recent Pleistocene glaciations that imprinted their molecular architecture. The large contemporary populations in the northeast Pacific and Arctic Oceans exhibited significant genetic structure whereas no such structure was detected in the equally extensive North Atlantic clades. All clades are characterized by one or two prevalent mtDNA haplotypes distributed over the entire range of the clade. Assuming a Pacific ancestor for capelin, we infer that capelin dispersed on two separate occasions to the North Atlantic. A more recent event resulted in the isolation of eastern Pacific and Arctic clades, with the Arctic clade positioned for a potential third Atlantic invasion, as revealed by the presence of this clade in the Labrador Sea. The Labrador Sea is a potential contact zone for three of the four capelin clades.