Tronholm A., Leliaert F., Sanson M., Afonso-Carrillo J., Tyberghein L., Verbruggen H. & De Clerck O. (2012)
Contrasting geographical distributions as a result of thermal tolerance and long-distance dispersal in two allegedly widespread tropical brown algae
PLoS One 7: e30813


Background:Many tropical marine macroalgae are reported from all three ocean basins, though these very wide distributions may simply be an artifact resulting from inadequate taxonomy that fails to take into account cryptic diversity. Alternatively, pantropical distributions challenge the belief of limited intrinsic dispersal capacity of marine seaweeds and the effectiveness of the north-south oriented continents as dispersal barriers. We aimed to re-assess the distribution of two allegedly circumtropical brown algae, Dictyota ciliolata and D. crenulata, and interpret the realized geographical range of the respective species in relation to their thermal tolerance and major tectonic and climatic events during the Cenozoic.
Methodology/Principal Findings:Species delimitation was based on 184 chloroplast encoded psbA sequences, using a Generalized Mixed Yule Coalescent method. Phylogenetic relationships were inferred by analyzing a six-gene dataset. Divergence times were estimated using relaxed molecular clock methods and published calibration data. Distribution ranges of the species were inferred from DNA-confirmed records, complemented with credible literature data and herbarium vouchers. Temperature tolerances of the species were determined by correlating distribution records with local SST values. We found considerable conflict between traditional and DNA-based species definitions. Dictyota crenulata consists of several pseudocryptic species, which have restricted distributions in the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Central America. In contrast, the pantropical distribution of D. ciliolata is confirmed and linked to its significantly wider temperature tolerance.
Conclusions/Significance: Tectonically driven rearrangements of physical barriers left an unequivocal imprint on the current diversity patterns of marine macroalgae, as witnessed by the D. crenulata-complex. The nearly circumglobal tropical distribution of D. ciliolata, however, demonstrates that the north-south oriented continents do not present absolute dispersal barriers for species characterized by wide temperature tolerances.

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