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Mitochondrial evolution and phylogeography in the hydrozoan Obelia geniculata (Cnidaria)

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The distribution and genetic structure of many marine invertebrates in the North Atlantic have been influenced by the Pleistocene glaciation, which caused local extinctions followed by recolonization in warmer periods. Mitochondrial DNA markers are typically used to reconstruct species histories. Here, two mitochondrial markers [16S rDNA and cytochrome c oxidase I (COI)] were used to study the evolution of the widely distributed hydrozoan Obelia geniculata (Linnaeus, 1758) from the North Atlantic and the Pacific and, more specifically, in the context of North Atlantic phylogeography. Samples were collected from six geographic localities between 1998 and 2002. Hydroids from the North Atlantic, North Pacific (Japan), and South Pacific (New Zealand) are reciprocally monophyletic and may represent cryptic species. Using portions of the 16S rDNA and COI genes and the date of the last trans-Arctic interchange (3.1–4.1 million years ago), the first calibrated rate of nucleotide substitutions in hydrozoans is presented. Whereas extremely low substitution rates have been reported in other cnidarians, mainly based on anthozoans, substitution rates in O. geniculata are comparable to other invertebrates. Despite a life history that ostensibly permits substantial dispersal, there is apparently considerable genetic differentiation in O. geniculata. Divergence estimates and the presence of unique haplotypes provide evidence for glacial refugia in Iceland and New Brunswick, Canada. A population in Massachusetts, USA, appears to represent a relatively recent colonization event.

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