Aim The tunicate Molgula manhattensis has a disjunct amphi-Atlantic distribution and a recent history of world-wide introductions. Its distribution could be the result of regional extinctions followed by post-glacial recolonization, or anthropogenic dispersal. To determine whether the North Atlantic distribution of M. manhattensis is natural or human-mediated, we analysed mtDNA cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) sequence variation in individuals from cryptogenic and introduced ranges.
Location North Atlantic Europe and America; Black Sea; San Francisco Bay; Osaka Bay.
Methods Nuclear 18S rDNA sequences were used to resolve phylogenetic relationships and mtDNA COI sequences for phylogeographic analyses.
Results Phylogenetic analyses confirmed that M. manhattensis and M. socialis, which are frequently confused, are distinct species. MtDNA haplotype diversity was nearly three times higher with deeper relationships among haplotypes on the North-east American coast than in Europe. Diversity declined from south to north in America but not in Europe. In areas of known introductions (Black Sea, Japan, San Francisco Bay), M. manhattensis showed variable levels of haplotype diversity. Medium-to-high-frequency haplotypes originating from the North-west Atlantic were present in two locations of known introductions, but not in Europe. Private haplotypes were found on both sides of the Atlantic and in introduced populations. The mismatch distribution for the North-east Atlantic coast indicates a recent expansion.
Main conclusions Molgula manhattensis is native in North-east America. However, whether it was introduced or is native to Europe remains equivocal. Additional sampling might or might not reveal the presence of putative private European haplotypes in America. The low European diversity may be explained by low effective population size and a recent expansion, or by low propagule pressure of anthropogenic introduction. Absence of medium-to-high-frequency American haplotypes in Europe may be the result of exclusive transport from southern ports, or long-term residence. These arguments are ambiguous, and M. manhattensis remains cryptogenic in Europe.