Genetic structure in the Mediterranean seagrass Posidonia oceanica: disentangling past vicariance events from contemporary patterns of gene flow


Gabriele Procaccini, Fax: +390817641355; E-mail:


The Mediterranean Sea is a two-basin system, with the boundary zone restricted to the Strait of Sicily and the narrow Strait of Messina. Two main population groups are recognized in the Mediterranean endemic seagrass Posidonia oceanica, corresponding to the Western and the Eastern basins. To address the nature of the East–West cleavage in P. oceanica, the main aims of this study were: (i) to define the genetic structure within the potential contact zone (i.e. the Strait of Sicily) and clarify the extent of gene flow between the two population groups, and (ii) to investigate the role of present water circulation patterns vs. past evolutionary events on the observed genetic pattern. To achieve these goals, we utilized SSR markers and we simulated, with respect to current regime, the possible present-day dispersal pattern of Posidonia floating fruits using 28-day numerical Lagrangian trajectories. The results obtained confirm the presence of the two main population groups, without any indices of reproductive isolation, with the break zone located at the level of the Southern tip of Calabria. The populations in the Strait of Sicily showed higher affinity with Western than with Eastern populations. This pattern of genetic structure probably reflects historical avenues of recolonization from relict glacial areas and past vicariance events, but seems to persist as a result of the low connectivity among populations via marine currents, as suggested by our dispersal simulation analysis.