• cosmopolitanism;
  • cryptic species;
  • dispersal;
  • nematode;
  • phylogeography;
  • R. (P.) marina


Pinpointing processes that structure the geographical distribution of genetic diversity of marine species and lead to speciation is challenging because of the lack of obvious dispersal barriers and the likelihood of substantial (passive) dispersal in oceans. In addition, cryptic radiations with sympatric distributions abound in marine species, challenging the allopatric speciation mechanism. Here, we present a phylogeographical study of the marine nematode species complex Rhabditis (Pellioditis) marina to investigate processes shaping genetic structure and speciation. Rhabditis (P.) marina lives on decaying macroalgae in the intertidal, and may therefore disperse over considerable distances. Rhabditis (P.) marina consists of several cryptic species sympatrically distributed at a local scale. Genetic variation in the COI gene was screened in 1362 specimens from 45 locations around the world. Two nuclear DNA genes (ITS and D2D3) were sequenced to infer phylogenetic species. We found evidence for ten sympatrically distributed cryptic species, seven of which show a strong genetic structuring. A historical signature showed evidence for restricted gene flow with occasional long-distance dispersal and range expansions pre-dating the last glacial maximum. Our data also point to a genetic break around the British Isles and a contact zone in the Southern Bight of the North Sea. We provide evidence for the transoceanic distribution of at least one cryptic species (PmIII) and discuss the dispersal capacity of marine nematodes. The allopatric distribution of some intraspecific phylogroups and of closely related cryptic species points to the potential for allopatric speciation in R. (P.) marina.