Speciation on the coasts of the new world: phylogeography and the evolution of bindin in the sea urchin genus Lytechinus

Evolution. 2004 Jun;58(6):1225-41. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2004.tb01702.x.


Beginning with E. Mayr's study in 1954, tropical sea urchins have played an important role in studies of speciation in the sea, but what are the processes of cladogenesis and divergence that give rise to new species in this group? We attempt to answer this question in the genus Lytechinus. Unlike the majority of other tropical sea urchin genera, which have circumtropical distributions, Lytechinus is mostly confined to the tropics and subtropics of the New World. We sequenced a region of mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I and the entire molecule of nuclear bindin (a sperm gamete recognition protein) of nearly all species in the genus, and we assayed isozymes of three partially sympatric closely related species and subspecies. We found that in both mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and in bindin the genus Lytechinus is paraphyletic, encompassing Sphaerechinus granularis as the sister species of L. euerces. The rest of the species are arranged in an Atlantic clade composed of L. williamsi and L. variegatus, and a Pacific clade containing L. anamesus, L. pictus, L. semituberculatus, and L. panamensis. Divergence between these clades suggests that they were separated no later than the closure of the Isthmus of Panama, and possibly before this time. Our data confirm that L. anamesus and L. pictus from California are a single species, and provide no evidence of differentiation between L. variegatus variegatus from the Caribbean and L. variegatus atlanticus from Bermuda. Lytechinus variegatus variegatus mtDNA is distinct from that of L. variegatus carolinus from the North American seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico, whereas their bindins are very similar. However, there is clear evidence of introgression of mtDNA between the two subspecies and they share alleles in all sampled isozyme loci. Lytechinus williamsi from the Caribbean shares mtDNA haplotypes with L. variegatus variegatus, and they also share isozymes in all assayed loci. Their bindin, however, is distinct and coalesces within each morphospecies. A private clade of mtDNA in L. williamsi may be indicative of former differentiation in the process of being swamped by introgression, or of recent speciation. Recent sudden expansions in effective population size may explain the predominance of a few mitochondrial haplotypes common to the two species. Despite the high divergence of bindin (relative to differentiation of mtDNA) between L. variegatus and L. williamsi, comparison of amino acid replacement to silent substitutions by various methods uncovered no evidence for positive selection on the bindin of any clade of Lytechinus. With the possible exception of L. williamsi and L. variegatus, our results are consistent with a history of allopatric speciation in Lytechinus. The molecular results from Lytechinus, along with those of other similar studies of sea urchins, suggest that the general speciation patterns deduced in the middle of last century by Mayr from morphology and geography have held up, but also have uncovered peculiarities in the evolution of each genus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Americas
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Amino Acid Substitution / genetics
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cluster Analysis
  • DNA Primers
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Geography
  • Glycoproteins / genetics*
  • Haplotypes / genetics
  • Isoenzymes
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Chemical
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Phylogeny*
  • Population Density
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Sea Urchins / genetics*
  • Sea Urchins / metabolism
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Species Specificity
  • Tropical Climate


  • DNA Primers
  • Glycoproteins
  • Isoenzymes
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • egg surface sperm receptor
  • Electron Transport Complex IV