Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The spatial scale of genetic subdivision in populations of Ifremeria nautilei, a hydrothermal-vent gastropod from the southwest Pacific

Andrew D Thaler1*, Kevin Zelnio1, William Saleu1, Thomas F Schultz1, Jens Carlsson2, Clifford Cunningham3, Robert C Vrijenhoek4 and Cindy L Van Dover1

Author Affiliations

1 Marine Laboratory, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, 135 Duke Marine Lab Rd., Beaufort, NC 28516, USA

2 School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences Distillery Fields, North Mall University College Cork, Ireland

3 Department of Biology, Duke University, Box 90338, Durham, NC 27708, USA

4 Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, 7700 Sandholdt Road, Moss Landing, CA 95039, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:372  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-372

Published: 22 December 2011



Deep-sea hydrothermal vents provide patchy, ephemeral habitats for specialized communities of animals that depend on chemoautotrophic primary production. Unlike eastern Pacific hydrothermal vents, where population structure has been studied at large (thousands of kilometres) and small (hundreds of meters) spatial scales, population structure of western Pacific vents has received limited attention. This study addresses the scale at which genetic differentiation occurs among populations of a western Pacific vent-restricted gastropod, Ifremeria nautilei.


We used mitochondrial and DNA microsatellite markers to infer patterns of gene flow and population subdivision. A nested sampling strategy was employed to compare genetic diversity in discrete patches of Ifremeria nautilei separated by a few meters within a single vent field to distances as great as several thousand kilometres between back-arc basins that encompass the known range of the species. No genetic subdivisions were detected among patches, mounds, or sites within Manus Basin. Although I. nautilei from Lau and North Fiji Basins (~1000 km apart) also exhibited no evidence for genetic subdivision, these populations were genetically distinct from the Manus Basin population.


An unknown process that restricts contemporary gene flow isolates the Manus Basin population of Ifremeria nautilei from widespread populations that occupy the North Fiji and Lau Basins. A robust understanding of the genetic structure of hydrothermal vent populations at multiple spatial scales defines natural conservation units and can help minimize loss of genetic diversity in situations where human activities are proposed and managed.