Ecology Letters (2012)
The geography of adaptive genetic variation is crucial to species conservation yet poorly understood in marine systems. We analyse the spatial scale of genetic variation in traits that broadly display adaptation throughout the range of a highly dispersive marine species. We conducted common garden experiments on the Atlantic silverside, Menidia menidia, from 39 locations along its 3 000 km range thereby mapping genetic variation for growth rate, vertebral number and sex determination. Each trait displayed unique clinal patterns, with significant differences (adaptive or not) occurring over very small distances. Breakpoints in the cline differed among traits, corresponding only partially with presumed eco-geographical boundaries. Because clinal patterns are unique to each selected character, neutral genes or those coding for a single character cannot serve as proxies for the genetic structure as a whole. Conservation plans designed to protect essential genetic subunits of a species will need to account for such complex spatial structures.