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Consequences of a poecilogonous life history for genetic structure in coastal populations of the polychaete Streblospio benedicti


Correspondence: Christina Zakas, Fax: +1 212-995-4015; E-mail:


In many species, alternative developmental pathways lead to the production of two distinct phenotypes, promoting the evolution of morphological novelty and diversification. Offspring type in marine invertebrates influences transport time by ocean currents, which dictate dispersal potential and gene flow, and thus has sweeping evolutionary effects on the potential for local adaptation and on rates of speciation, extinction and molecular evolution. Here, we use the polychaete Streblospio benedicti to investigate the effects of dimorphic offspring type on gene flow and genetic structure in coastal populations. We use 84 single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers for this species to assay populations on the East and West Coasts of the United States. Using these markers, we found that in their native East Coast distribution, populations of S. benedicti have high-population genetic structure, but this structure is associated primarily with geographic separation rather than developmental differences. Interestingly, very little genetic differentiation is recovered between individuals of different development types when they occur in the same or nearby populations, further supporting that this is a true case of poecilogony. In addition, we were able to demonstrate that the recently introduced (~100 ya) West Coast populations probably originated from a lecithotrophic population near Delaware.