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Nature. 2000 May 4;405(6782):43-7.

Molecular evidence for genetic mixing of Arctic and Antarctic subpolar populations of planktonic foraminifers.

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  • 1Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Edinburgh, UK.


Bipolarity, the presence of a species in the high latitudes separated by a gap in distribution across the tropics, is a well-known pattern of global species distribution. But the question of whether bipolar species have evolved independently at the poles since the establishment of the cold-water provinces 16-8 million years ago, or if genes have been transferred across the tropics since that time, has not been addressed. Here we examine genetic variation in the small subunit ribosomal RNA gene of three bipolar planktonic foraminiferal morphospecies. We identify at least one identical genotype in all three morphospecies in both the Arctic and Antarctic subpolar provinces, indicating that trans-tropical gene flow must have occurred. Our genetic analysis also reveals that foraminiferal morphospecies can consist of a complex of genetic types. Such occurrences of genetically distinct populations within one morphospecies may affect the use of planktonic foraminifers as a palaeoceanographic proxy for climate change and necessitate a reassessment of the species concept for the group.

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