This study examined relationships between bathymetrically induced deep-ocean currents and the dispersal of the hydrothermal vent tubeworm Ridgeia piscesae along the northeast Pacific ridge system. A robust diagnostic model of deep-ocean circulation in this region predicted strong southeasterly currents following contours of the Blanco Transform Fault, a 450-km lateral offset that separates the Gorda and Juan de Fuca ridge systems. Such currents should facilitate the southward dispersal of R. piscesae larvae. Immigration rates for populations north and south of the Blanco Transform Fault were estimated from molecular population genetic data. Mitochondrial DNA evidence revealed population subdivision across the Blanco Transform Fault, and a strong directional bias in gene flow that was consistent with predictions of the circulation model. The distribution of mitochondrial diversity between the northern and southern populations of R. piscesae suggests that the Gorda Ridge tubeworms have maintained larger effective population sizes than the northern populations, a pattern that also exists in co-occurring limpets. Together, these data suggest that the northern vent fields may experience a higher frequency of habitat turnover and consequently more rapid losses of genetic diversity.
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