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Keywords:

  • Antarctica;
  • cryptic speciation;
  • diversity pump;
  • direct development;
  • long-distance dispersal;
  • phylogeography

Abstract

Strong currents and deep passages of water can be barriers for larval dispersal of continental marine animals, but potential effects on direct developers are under-investigated. We examined the genetic structure of Doris kerguelenensis, a directly developing sea slug that occurs across the Drake Passage, the body of water separating Antarctica from South America. We found deep mitochondrial divergences within populations on both sides of the Drake Passage, and South American animals formed multiple sister-group relationships with Antarctic animals. A generalised molecular clock suggested these trans-Drake pairs diverged during the Pliocene–Pleistocene, after the formation of the Drake Passage. Statistical parsimony methods recovered 29 separate haplotype networks (many sympatric) that likely correlate with allopatric events caused by repeated glacial cycles. Data from 16S were congruent but more conserved than COI, and the estimated ancestral 16S haplotype was widespread. The marked difference in the substitution rates between these two mitochondrial genes results in different estimates of connectivity. Demographic analyses on networks revealed some evidence for selection and expanding populations. Contrasting with the Northern Hemisphere, glaciation in Antarctica appears to have increased rather than reduced genetic diversity. This suggests orbitally forced range dynamics based on Northern Hemisphere phylogeography do not hold for Antarctica. The diverse lineages found in D. kerguelenensis point towards a recent, explosive radiation, likely reflecting multiple refuges during glaciation events, combined with limited subsequent dispersal. Whether recognised as cryptic species or not, genetic diversity in Antarctic marine invertebrates appears higher than expected from morphological analyses, and supports the Antarctic biodiversity pump phenomenon.