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Population structure of the widely dispersing marine bryozoan Membranipora membranacea (Cheilostomata): implications for population history, biogeography, and taxonomy

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Abstract

Morphologically plastic, cryptic, or geographically widespread species pose similar challenges to the evolutionary biologist: their taxonomic status is often unclear yet must be known to study almost any aspect of their biology, ecology, evolution, or biogeography. The marine bryozoan Membranipora membranacea (L.) is morphologically plastic and geographically widespread in temperate oceans of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and its taxonomy is unclear. This study examined genetic relationships among allopatric populations and sympatric morphs of this species, or species complex. Colonies were collected from 1992 to 1995. Allozymes were used to elucidate the relationships among four widely separated populations, two in the North Atlantic and two in the North Pacific Ocean. Allozymes and mtDNA sequencing were used to clarify the genetic relationships among three sympatric morphs that might correspond to the species M. villosa Hincks and M. membranacea in the northeastern Pacific (Washington State). Populations in the North Atlantic and North Pacific had no fixed allelic differences at the loci tested but were separated by an average Nei's genetic distance of 0.581, suggesting their near-sibling species status. Populations from Friday Harbor (Washington) and Catalina Island (California) were not significantly differentiated, which was attributed to high gene flow. Populations on either side of the North Atlantic were genetically indistinguishable, which is most likely due to the recent establishment of the West Atlantic populations from European founders. At Friday Harbor, sympatric morphs varying in their spination and spine inducibility were genetically indistinguishable, supporting the hypothesis that M. villosa is an induced phenotype of M. membranacea and not a distinct species in the northeastern Pacific. Since such phenotypic plasticity is common in cheilostome bryozoans, the morphospecies concept must be used with caution.

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Received: 31 August 1998 / Accepted: 10 August 1999

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Schwaninger, H. Population structure of the widely dispersing marine bryozoan Membranipora membranacea (Cheilostomata): implications for population history, biogeography, and taxonomy. Marine Biology 135, 411–423 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1007/s002270050642

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s002270050642

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