Coastal populations are often connected by unidirectional current systems, but the biological effects of such asymmetric oceanographic connectivity remain relatively unstudied. We used mtDNA analysis to determine the phylogeographic origins of beach-cast bull-kelp (Durvillaea antarctica) adults in the Canterbury Bight, a 180 km coastal region devoid of rocky-reef habitat in southern New Zealand. A multi-year, quantitative analysis supports the oceanographically derived hypothesis of asymmetric dispersal mediated by the north-flowing Southland Current. Specifically, 92% of beach-cast specimens examined had originated south of the Bight, many drifting north for hundreds of kilometres, and some traversing at least 500 km of ocean from subantarctic sources. In contrast, only 8% of specimens had dispersed south against the prevailing current, and these counter-current dispersers likely travelled relatively small distances (tens of kilometres). These data show that oceanographic connectivity models can provide robust estimates of passive biological dispersal, even for highly buoyant taxa. The results also indicate that there are no oceanographic barriers to kelp dispersal across the Canterbury Bight, indicating that other ecological factors explain the phylogeographic disjunction across this kelp-free zone. The large number of long-distance dispersal events detected suggests drifting macroalgae have potential to facilitate ongoing connectivity between otherwise isolated benthic populations.
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