Biological Invasions

, Volume 10, Issue 8, pp 1197–1213 | Cite as

Global population genetic structure of the starlet anemone Nematostella vectensis: multiple introductions and implications for conservation policy

  • Adam M. Reitzel
  • John A. Darling
  • James C. Sullivan
  • John R. Finnerty
Original Paper


Distinguishing natural versus anthropogenic dispersal of organisms is essential for determining the native range of a species and implementing an effective conservation strategy. For cryptogenic species with limited historical records, molecular data can help to identify introductions. Nematostella vectensis is a small, burrowing estuarine sea anemone found in tidally restricted salt marsh pools. This species’ current distribution extends over three coast lines: (i) the Atlantic coast of North America from Nova Scotia to Georgia, (ii) the Pacific coast of North America from Washington to central California, and (iii) the southeast coast of England. The 1996 IUCN Red List designates N. vectensis as “vulnerable” in England. Amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) fingerprinting of 516 individuals from 24 N. vectensis populations throughout its range and mtDNA sequencing of a subsample of these individuals strongly suggest that anthropogenic dispersal has played a significant role in its current distribution. Certain western Atlantic populations of N. vectensis exhibit greater genetic similarity to Pacific populations or English populations than to other western Atlantic populations. At the same time, F-statistics showing high degrees of genetic differentiation between geographically proximate populations support a low likelihood for natural dispersal between salt marshes. Furthermore, the western Atlantic harbors greater genetic diversity than either England or the eastern Pacific. Collectively, these data clearly imply that N. vectensis is native to the Atlantic coast of North America and that populations along the Pacific coast and in England are cases of successful introduction.


AFLP Anthropogenic dispersal Asexual Conservation Introduction Nematostella vectensis 



We are extremely grateful to Michael Mazurkiewicz, Wayne Fields, Shawn Arellano, Bruno Pernet, Tammy McGovern, and Kostas Kaltsas for supplying N. vectensis to this study. AMR would also like to thank W and J Reitzel for collection assistance in Nova Scotia. We would like to acknowledge The Trustees of Reservations, Massachusetts and Northeast Regional Ecologist Franz Ingelfinger for access to protected marshes and collection assistance. The Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology (Boston University) partially funded costs associated with collection of samples. AMR was supported by a project AWARE grant. This research was also supported by NSF grant FP-91656101-0 to JCS and JRF, EPA grant F5E11155 to AMR and JRF, and NSF grant IBN-0212773 to JRF.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adam M. Reitzel
    • 1
    • 2
  • John A. Darling
    • 1
    • 3
  • James C. Sullivan
    • 1
  • John R. Finnerty
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyWoods Hole Oceanographic InstituteWoods HoleUSA
  3. 3.Molecular Ecology Research BranchUS EPACincinnatiUSA

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