Reproductive isolation among morphotypes of the Atlantic seastar species Zoroaster fulgens (Asteroidea: Echinodermata)
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Zoroaster fulgens is a slope-dwelling seastar species that is distributed throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Studies into the population structure and systematics of marine animals have increasingly found that species with a reported cosmopolitan distribution are, in fact, collections of closely related cryptic or sibling species. In the Porcupine Seabight, three morphotypes of Z. fulgens can be found that have a distribution that is stratified by depth. This study investigates the genetic divergence between these morphotypes using sections of the cytochrome oxidase 1 (COI) and 16S regions of the mitochondrial genome. Bathymetrically separated morphotypes of Z. fulgens are reproductively isolated over distances of approximately 1 km while gene flow occurs among morphotypes, along isobaths, over distances of approximately 900 km. Reproductive isolation on the continental slope may have occurred as a result of selection exerted by gradients of depth-correlated physical factors, such as pressure and temperature. However, allopatric speciation with subsequent range expansion may also explain the observed patterns of genetic divergence. Further investigation of radiation within this group may provide important information on the evolution of slope species. Taxonomic revision of the genus is required.