The extent to which genetic divergence can occur in the absence of physical barriers to gene flow is currently one of the most controversial topics in evolutionary biology, with implications for our understanding of speciation, phenotypic plasticity and adaptive potential. This is illustrated by a recent study reporting a surprising pattern of genetic differentiation between intertidal and subtidal morphotypes of the broadcast-spawning Antarctic limpet Nacella concinna. To explore this further, we collected almost 400 Antarctic limpets from four depths (intertidal, 6, 15 and 25 m) at Adelaide island, Antarctica, and conducted a combined morphometric and genetic analysis using 168 polymorphic amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) loci. Morphological analysis revealed not only pronounced differences between the two morphotypes, but also a continuous cline in shell shape from the intertidal zone down to 25 m depth, suggesting that the distinction between the morphotypes may be artificial. Moreover, genetic analysis using both Fst and a Bayesian analogue found no evidence for differentiation either between the two morphotypes or by depth, and a Bayesian cluster analysis did not detect any cryptic genetic structure. Our findings lend support to the notion that limpets can be phenotypically highly plastic, although further studies are required to determine unequivocally whether there is any genetic basis to the observed variation in shell morphology
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