Marine species can demonstrate strong genetic differentiation and population structure despite the hypothesis of open seas and high connectivity. Some suggested drivers causing the genetic breaks are oceanographic barriers and the species’ biology. We assessed the relevance of seven major oceanographic fronts on species connectivity while considering their dispersal capacity and life strategy.
We systematically reviewed the scientific articles reporting population genetic differentiation along the Mediterranean Sea and across the Atlantic-Mediterranean transition. We retained those considering at least one sampling locality at each side of an oceanographic front, and at least two localities with no-front between them to correctly assess the effect of the front. To estimate the impact of life history characteristics affecting connectivity we considered the planktonic larval duration (PLD) and adult life strategy.
Oceanographic barriers in the Mediterranean Sea seem to reduce gene flow globally; however, this effect is not homogeneous considering the life history traits of the species. The effect of the oceanographic fronts reduces gene flow in highly mobile species with PLD larger than 2±4 weeks. Benthic sessile species and/or with short PLD (< 2 weeks) have more significant genetic breaks between localities than species with higher motility; however, genetic differentiation occurs independently of the presence of a front.
Genetic connectivity is important for populations to recover from anthropogenic or natural impacts. We show that species with low mobility, mostly habitat-formers, have high genetic differentiation but low gene flow reduction mediated by the front, therefore, considering the importance of these species, we emphasize the vulnerability of the Mediterranean ecosystems and the necessity of protection strategies based on the whole ecosystem.