Open Access Research article

Towards a model of postglacial biogeography in shallow marine species along the Patagonian Province: lessons from the limpet Nacella magellanica (Gmelin, 1791)

Claudio A González-Wevar1*, Mathias Hüne12, Juan I Cañete2, Andrés Mansilla2, Tomoyuki Nakano3 and Elie Poulin1

Author affiliations

1 Laboratorio de Ecología Molecular, Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad (IEB), Departamento de Ciencias Ecológicas, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Chile, Las Palmeras # 3425, Ñuñoa, Santiago, Chile

2 Departamento de Recursos Naturales, Universidad de Magallanes, Punta Arenas, Chile

3 Seto Marine Biological Laboratory, Field Science Education and Research Centre, Kyoto Univeristy, 459 Shirahama, Nishimuro, Wakayama, 649-2211, Japan

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:139  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-139

Published: 7 August 2012



Patagonia extends for more than 84,000 km of irregular coasts is an area especially apt to evaluate how historic and contemporary processes influence the distribution and connectivity of shallow marine benthic organisms. The true limpet Nacella magellanica has a wide distribution in this province and represents a suitable model to infer the Quaternary glacial legacy on marine benthic organisms. This species inhabits ice-free rocky ecosystems, has a narrow bathymetric range and consequently should have been severely affected by recurrent glacial cycles during the Quaternary. We performed phylogeographic and demographic analyses of N. magellanica from 14 localities along its distribution in Pacific Patagonia, Atlantic Patagonia, and the Falkland/Malvinas Islands.


Mitochondrial (COI) DNA analyses of 357 individuals of N. magellanica revealed an absence of genetic differentiation in the species with a single genetic unit along Pacific Patagonia. However, we detected significant genetic differences among three main groups named Pacific Patagonia, Atlantic Patagonia and Falkland/Malvinas Islands. Migration rate estimations indicated asymmetrical gene flow, primarily from Pacific Patagonia to Atlantic Patagonia (Nem=2.21) and the Falkland/Malvinas Islands (Nem=16.6). Demographic reconstruction in Pacific Patagonia suggests a recent recolonization process (< 10 ka) supported by neutrality tests, mismatch distribution and the median-joining haplotype genealogy.


Absence of genetic structure, a single dominant haplotype, lack of correlation between geographic and genetic distance, high estimated migration rates and the signal of recent demographic growth represent a large body of evidence supporting the hypothesis of rapid postglacial expansion in this species in Pacific Patagonia. This expansion could have been sustained by larval dispersal following the main current system in this area. Lower levels of genetic diversity in inland sea areas suggest that fjords and channels represent the areas most recently colonized by the species. Hence recolonization seems to follow a west to east direction to areas that were progressively deglaciated. Significant genetic differences among Pacific, Atlantic and Falkland/Malvinas Islands populations may be also explained through disparities in their respective glaciological and geological histories. The Falkland/Malvinas Islands, more than representing a glacial refugium for the species, seems to constitute a sink area considering the strong asymmetric gene flow detected from Pacific to Atlantic sectors. These results suggest that historical and contemporary processes represent the main factors shaping the modern biogeography of most shallow marine benthic invertebrates inhabiting the Patagonian Province.

Quaternary; Cape horn current; Last glacial maximum; Post-glacial recolonization; Expansion-contraction model; Nacella magellanica; Larval dispersal; Asymmetric gene flow; Patagonian Province; Falkland/Malvinas Islands