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Cryptic speciation in a benthic isopod from Patagonian and Falkland Island waters and the impact of glaciations on its population structure

Florian Leese12*, Anna Kop13, Johann-Wolfgang Wägele4 and Christoph Held1

Author Affiliations

1 Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Marine Animal Ecology, PO Box 12 0161, D-27515 Bremerhaven, Germany

2 Ruhr University Bochum, Department of Animal Ecology, Evolution and Biodiversity, Universitaetsstrasse 150, D-44801 Bochum, Germany

3 York University, 4700 Keele St., Toronto M3J 1P3, Canada

4 Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig, Adenauerallee 160, D-53113 Bonn, Germany

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Frontiers in Zoology 2008, 5:19  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-5-19

Published: 19 December 2008



The Falkland Islands and Patagonia are traditionally assigned to the Magellan Biogeographic Province. Most marine species in Falkland waters are also reported from southern Patagonia. It remains unclear if relatively immobile, marine benthic, shallow-water species maintain gene flow, and by what mechanism. Recurrent fluctuations in sea level during glacial cycles are regarded as a possible mechanism that might have allowed genetic exchange between the regions. However, the realized genetic exchange between the Falkland Islands and Patagonia has never been estimated.


This study analyses the genetic structure of three populations of the marine shallow-water isopod Serolis paradoxa (Fabricius, 1775) from the Falkland Islands and southern Patagonia (central Strait of Magellan and the Atlantic opening) applying seven nuclear microsatellites and a fragment of the mitochondrial 16S rRNA gene. Both marker systems report highest genetic diversity for the population from the central Strait of Magellan and lowest for the Falkland Islands. The estimated effective population sizes were large for all populations studied. Significant differentiation was observed among all three populations. The magnitude of differentiation between Patagonia and the Falkland Islands (16S: uncorrected p-distance 2.1%; microsatellites: standardized F'ST > 0.86) was an order of magnitude higher than between populations from within Patagonia. This indicates that there is currently no effective gene flow for nominal S. paradoxa between these two regions and it has been absent for time exceeding the last glacial maximum. We argue that specimens from the Strait of Magellan and the Falkland Islands very likely represent two distinct species that separated in the mid-Pleistocene (about 1 MY BP).


The results of this study indicate limited gene flow between distant populations of the brooding isopod Serolis paradoxa. The patterns of genetic diversity suggest that the only recently inundated Strait of Magellan was colonized by different source populations, most likely from Atlantic and Pacific coastal waters. Our results demonstrate that more systematic testing of shared faunal inventory and realized genetic exchange between Patagonia and the Falkland Islands is needed before a consensus concerning the position of the Falkland Islands relative to the Magellan zoogeographic province can be reached.