Background: Understanding the processes driving speciation in marine ecosystems remained a challenge until recently, due to the unclear nature of dispersal boundaries. However, recent evidence for marine adaptive radiations and ecological speciation, as well as previously undetected patterns of cryptic speciation is overturning this view. Here, we use multi-gene phylogenetics to infer the family-level evolutionary history of Fucaceae (intertidal brown algae of the northern Pacific and Atlantic) in order to investigate recent and unique patterns of radiative speciation in the genus Fucus in the Atlantic, in contrast with the mainly monospecific extant genera.
Results: We developed a set of markers from 13 protein coding genes based on polymorphic cDNA from EST libraries, which provided novel resolution allowing estimation of ancestral character states and a detailed reconstruction of the recent radiative history. Phylogenetic reconstructions yielded similar topologies and revealed four independent trans-Arctic colonization events by Fucaceae lineages, two of which also involved transitions from hermaphroditism to dioecy associated with Atlantic invasions. More recently, reversion of dioecious ancestral lineages towards hermaphroditism has occurred in the genus Fucus, particularly coinciding with colonization of more extreme habitats. Novel lineages in the genus Fucus were also revealed in association with southern habitats. These most recent speciation events occurred during the Pleistocene glaciations and coincided with a shift towards selfing mating systems, generally southward shifts in distribution, and invasion of novel habitats.
Conclusions: Diversification of the family occurred in the Late-Mid Miocene, with at least four independent trans-Artic lineage crossings coincident with two reproductive mode transitions. The genus Fucus arose in the Pliocene but radiated within a relatively short time frame about 2.5 million years ago. Current species distributions of Fucus suggest that climatic factors promoted differentiation between the two major clades, while the recent and rapid species radiation in the temperate clade during Pleistocene glacial cycles coincided with several potential speciation drivers.