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BMC Evol Biol. 2007 Nov 12;7:220.

Did glacial advances during the Pleistocene influence differently the demographic histories of benthic and pelagic Antarctic shelf fishes?--Inferences from intraspecific mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence diversity.

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Laboratory of Fish Genetics, Institute of Animal Physiology and Genetics, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Rumburská 89, 27721 Libechov, Czech Republic.



Circum-Antarctic waters harbour a rare example of a marine species flock - the Notothenioid fish, most species of which are restricted to the continental shelf. It remains an open question as to how they survived Pleistocene climatic fluctuations characterised by repeated advances of continental glaciers as far as the shelf break that probably resulted in a loss of habitat for benthic organisms. Pelagic ecosystems, on the other hand, might have flourished during glacial maxima due to the northward expansion of Antarctic polar waters. In order to better understand the role of ecological traits in Quaternary climatic fluctuations, we performed demographic analyses of populations of four fish species from the tribe Trematominae, including both fully benthic and pelagic species using the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene and an intron from the nuclear S7 gene.


Nuclear and cytoplasmic markers showed differences in the rate and time of population expansions as well as the likely population structure. Neutrality tests suggest that such discordance comes from different coalescence dynamics of each marker, rather than from selective pressure. Demographic analyses based on intraspecific DNA diversity suggest a recent population expansion in both benthic species, dated by the cyt b locus to the last glacial cycle, whereas the population structure of pelagic feeders either did not deviate from a constant-size model or indicated that the onset of the major population expansion of these species by far predated those of the benthic species. Similar patterns were apparent even when comparing previously published data on other Southern Ocean organisms, but we observed considerable heterogeneity within both groups with regard to the onset of major demographic events and rates.


Our data suggest benthic and pelagic species reacted differently to the Pleistocene ice-sheet expansions that probably significantly reduced the suitable habitat for benthic species. However, the asynchronous timing of major demographic events observed in different species within both "ecological guilds", imply that the species examined here may have different population and evolutionary histories, and that more species should be analysed in order to more precisely assess the role of life history in the response of organisms to climatic changes.

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