, Volume 131, Issue 2, pp 301-308

Bathymetric patterns of genetic variation in a deep-sea protobranch bivalve, Deminucula atacellana

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The origin of the deep-sea benthic fauna is poorly understood and represents an enormous gap in our understanding of basic evolutionary phenomena. One obstacle to studying evolutionary patterns in the deep sea has been the technical difficulty of measuring genetic variation in species that are typically minute, rare, and must be recovered from extreme depths. We used molecular genetic techniques to quantify variation in the 16S rRNA mitochondrial gene within and among populations of the common protobranch bivalve Deminucula atacellana (Schenck, 1939). We analyzed 89 individuals from nine samples collected in the 1960s along a depth gradient from 1100 to 3800 m in the western North Atlantic. Genetic variability within populations is much lower than between populations, and peak haplotype numbers occur near the center of its depth distribution. Continental slope (<2500 m) and rise (>2500 m) populations were genetically distinct despite the lack of any obvious topographic or oceanographic features that would impede gene flow. These findings indicate that the deep-sea macrofauna can have strong population structure over small (134 km) spatial scales, similar to that observed in shallow-water and terrestrial organisms. This surprisingly high biodiversity at the genetic level affords the potential for adaptation and evolutionary diversification, the ultimate historical causes of high species diversity in the deep-sea benthos.

Received: 24 July 1997 / Accepted: 26 January 1998