The evolution of incompatibilities between eggs and sperm is thought to play important roles in establishing and maintaining reproductive isolation among species of broadcast-spawning marine invertebrates. However, the effectiveness of gametic isolation in initiating the speciation process and/or in limiting the introgression of genes among species at later stages of divergence remains largely unknown. In the present study, we collected DNA sequence data from five loci in four species of Strongylocentrotus sea urchins (S. droebachiensis, S. pallidus, S. purpuratus, and S. franciscanus) to test whether the susceptibility of S. droebachiensis eggs to fertilization by heterospecific sperm results in gene flow between species. Despite the potential for introgression, a small but statistically significant signal of introgression was observed only between the youngest pair of sister taxa (S. pallidus and S. droebachiensis) that was strongly asymmetrical (from the former into the latter). No significant gene flow was observed for either S. purpuratus or S. franciscanus despite the ability of their sperm to readily fertilize the eggs of S. droebachiensis. Our results demonstrate that asymmetrical gamete compatibilities in strongylocentrotids can give rise to asymmetrical patterns of introgression but suggest that gamete traits alone cannot be responsible for maintaining species integrities. The genetic boundaries between strongylocentrotid urchin species in the northeast Pacific appear to be related to postzygotic isolating mechanisms that scale with divergence times and not intrinsic gametic incompatibilities per se.
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