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Proceedings: Biological Sciences





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The relative roles of geographical and non-geographical barriers in the genesis of genetic isolation are highly debated in evolutionary biology, yet knowing how speciation occurs is essential to our understanding of biodiversity. In the open ocean, differentiating between the two is particularly difficult, because of the high levels of gene flow found in pelagic communities. Here, we use molecular phylogenetics to test the hypothesis that geography is the primary isolating mechanism in a clade of pelagic nudibranchs, Glaucinae. Our results contradict allopatric expectations: the cosmopolitan Glaucus atlanticus is panmictic, whereas the Indo-Pacific Glaucus marginatus contains two pairs of cryptic species with overlapping distributions. Within the G. marginatus species complex, a parallel reproductive change has occurred in each cryptic species pair: the loss of a bursa copulatrix. Available G. marginatus data are most consistent with non-geographical speciation events, but we cannot rule out the possibility of allopatric speciation, followed by iterative range extension and secondary overlap. Irrespective of ancestral range distributions, our results implicate a central role for reproductive character differentiation in glaucinin speciation—a novel result in a planktonic system.

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