Open Access Research article

Genetic population structure of sympatric and allopatric populations of Baltic ciscoes (Coregonus albula complex, Teleostei, Coregonidae)

Thomas Mehner1*, Kirsten Pohlmann1, Che Elkin2, Michael T Monaghan1, Barbara Nitz34 and Jörg Freyhof1

Author Affiliations

1 Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Müggelseedamm 310, 12587 Berlin, Germany

2 ETH Zurich, Forest Ecology, Universitätstrasse 16, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland

3 Zoological State Collection, Münchhausenstr 21, 81247 Munich, Germany

4 Institute of Epidemiology, Helmholtz Center Munich, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Ingolstädter Landstr 1, 85764 Munich/Neuherberg, Germany

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:85  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-85

Published: 29 March 2010



Teleost fishes of the Coregonidae are good model systems for studying postglacial evolution, adaptive radiation and ecological speciation. Of particular interest is whether the repeated occurrence of sympatric species pairs results from in-situ divergence from a single lineage or from multiple invasions of one or more different lineages. Here, we analysed the genetic structure of Baltic ciscoes (Coregonus albula complex), examining 271 individuals from 8 lakes in northern Germany using 1244 polymorphic AFLP loci. Six lakes had only one population of C. albula while the remaining two lakes had C. albula as well as a sympatric species (C. lucinensis or C. fontanae).


AFLP demonstrated a significant population structure (Bayesian θB = 0.22). Lower differentiation between allopatric (θB = 0.028) than sympatric (0.063-0.083) populations contradicts the hypothesis of a sympatric origin of taxa, and there was little evidence for stocking or ongoing hybridization. Genome scans found only three loci that appeared to be under selection in both sympatric population pairs, suggesting a low probability of similar mechanisms of ecological segregation. However, removal of all non-neutral loci decreased the genetic distance between sympatric pairs, suggesting recent adaptive divergence at a few loci. Sympatric pairs in the two lakes were genetically distinct from the six other C. albula populations, suggesting introgression from another lineage may have influenced these two lakes. This was supported by an analysis of isolation-by-distance, where the drift-gene flow equilibrium observed among allopatric populations was disrupted when the sympatric pairs were included.


While the population genetic data alone can not unambiguously uncover the mode of speciation, our data indicate that multiple lineages may be responsible for the complex patterns typically observed in Coregonus. Relative differences within and among lakes raises the possibility that multiple lineages may be present in northern Germany, thus understanding the postglacial evolution and speciation in the C. albula complex requires a large-scale phylogenetic analysis of several potential founder lineages.