• Bayesian clustering;
  • founder event;
  • gelatinous plankton;
  • marine invasion;
  • Mnemiopsis leidyi


Marine invasions are taking place at an increasing rate. When occurring in blooms, zooplanktivorous comb jellies of the genus Mnemiopsis are able to cause pelagic regime shifts in coastal areas and may cause the collapse of commercially important fish populations. Using microsatellites, developed for the first time in the phylum Ctenophora, we show that Mnemiopsis leidyi has colonized Eurasia from two source regions. Our preliminary data set included four sites within the putative source region (US East Coast and Gulf of Mexico) and 10 invaded locations in Eurasian waters. Bayesian clustering and phylogeographic approaches revealed the origin of earlier invasions of the Black and Caspian Sea in the 1980s/1990s within or close to the Gulf of Mexico, while the 2006 invasion of the North and Baltic Seas can be directly traced to New England (pairwise FST = 0). We found no evidence for mixing among both gene pools in the invaded areas. While the genetic diversity (allelic richness) remained similar in the Baltic Sea compared to the source region New England, it was reduced in the North Sea, supporting the view of an initial invasion of Northern Europe to a Baltic Sea port. In Black and Caspian Sea samples, we found a gradual decline in allelic richness compared to the Gulf of Mexico region, supporting a stepping-stone model of colonization with two sequential genetic founder events. Our data also suggest that current practices of ballast water treatment are insufficient to prevent repeated invasions of gelatinous zooplankton.