Species of the marine meiofauna such as Gastrotricha are known to lack dispersal stages and are thus assumed to have low dispersal ability and low levels of gene flow between populations. Yet, most species are widely distributed, and this creates a paradox. To shed light on this apparent paradox, we test (i) whether such wide distribution may be due to misidentification and lumping of cryptic species with restricted distributions and (ii) whether spatial structures exist for the phylogeography of gastrotrichs. As a model, we used the genus Turbanella in NW Europe. DNA taxonomy using a mitochondrial and a nuclear marker supports distinctness of four traditional species (Turbanella ambronensis, T. bocqueti, T. mustela and T. cornuta) and provides evidence for two cryptic species within T. hyalina. An effect of geography on the within-species genetic structure is indeed present, with the potential for understanding colonization processes and for performing phylogeographic inference from microscopic animals. On the other hand, the occurrence of widely distributed haplotypes indicates long-distance dispersal as well, despite the assumed low dispersal ability of gastrotrichs.
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