Marine Biology

, Volume 136, Issue 3, pp 421-430

First online:

Mitochondrial DNA sequence variation and phylogeography of oceanic insects (Hemiptera: Gerridae: Halobates spp.)

  • N. M. AndersenAffiliated withZoological Museum, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark
  • , L. ChengAffiliated withScripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0202, USA
  • , J. DamgaardAffiliated withZoological Museum, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark
  • , F. A. H. SperlingAffiliated withDepartment of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, Division of Insect Biology, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94720-3112, USA

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Relatively few insects have invaded the marine environment, and only five species of sea skaters, Halobates Eschscholtz (Hemiptera: Gerridae), have successfully colonized the surface of the open ocean. All five species occur in the Pacific Ocean, H. germanus White also occurs in the Indian Ocean, whereas H. micans Esch- scholtz is the only species found in the Atlantic Ocean. We sequenced a 780 bp long region of the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase subunit I gene (COI) for a total of 66 specimens of the five oceanic Halobates species. Our purpose was to investigate the genetic variation within species and estimate the amount of gene flow between populations. We defined 27 haplotypes for H. micans and found that haplotype lineages from each of the major oceans occupied by this species are significantly different, having sequences containing five to seven unique base substitutions. We conclude that gene flow between populations of H. micans inhabiting the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean is limited and hypothesize that these populations have been separated for 1 to 3 million years. Similarly, there may be limited gene flow between H. germanus populations found in the Pacific and Indian Ocean and between H. sericeus populations inhabiting the northern and southern parts of the Pacific Ocean. Finally, we discuss our findings in relation to recent hypotheses about the influence of oceanic diffusion on the distribution and population structure of oceanic Halobates spp.