Dispersal barriers in tropical oceans and speciation in Atlantic and eastern Pacific sea urchins of the genus Echinometra

Mol Ecol. 2000 Sep;9(9):1391-400. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-294x.2000.01022.x.


Echinometra is a pantropical sea urchin made famous through studies of phylogeny, speciation, and genetic structure of the Indo-West Pacific (IWP) species. We sequenced 630 bp of the cytochrome oxidase I (COI) mitochondrial gene to provide comparable information on the eastern Pacific and Atlantic species, using divergence between those separated by closure of the Isthmus of Panama 3.1 million years ago (Ma) to estimate dates for cladogenic events. Most recently (1.27-1. 62 Ma), the Atlantic species E. lucunter and E. viridis diverged from each other, at a time in the Pleistocene that sea levels fell and Caribbean coral speciation and extinction rates were high. An earlier split, assumed to have been coincident with the completion of the Isthmus of Panama, separated the eastern Pacific E. vanbrunti from the Atlantic common ancestor. Transisthmian COI divergence similar to that in the sea urchin genus Eucidaris supports this assumption. The most ancient split in Echinometra occurred between the IWP and the neotropical clades, due to cessation of larval exchange around South Africa or across the Eastern Pacific Barrier. Gene flow within species is generally high; however, there are restrictions to genetic exchange between E. lucunter populations from the Caribbean and those from the rest of the Atlantic. Correlation between cladogenic and vicariant events supports E. Mayr's contention that marine species, despite their high dispersal potential, form by means of geographical separation. That sympatric, nonhybridizing E. lucunter and E. viridis were split so recently suggests, however, that perfection of reproductive barriers between marine species with large populations can occur in less than 1.6 million years (Myr).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetics, Population
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Phylogeny
  • Reproduction
  • Sea Urchins / enzymology
  • Sea Urchins / genetics*
  • Sea Urchins / physiology
  • Species Specificity
  • Time Factors
  • Tropical Climate


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Electron Transport Complex IV