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Open Access Research article

Temporal genetic structure in a poecilogonous polychaete: the interplay of developmental mode and environmental stochasticity

Jenni E Kesäniemi1*, Marina Mustonen1, Christoffer Boström2, Benni W Hansen3 and K Emily Knott1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological and Environmental Science, University of Jyväskylä, P.O. Box 35, Jyväskylä FI-40014, Finland

2 Environmental and Marine Biology, Åbo Akademi University, Artillerigatan 6, Turku FI-20520, Finland

3 Department of Environmental, Social and Spatial Change, Roskilde University, Universitetsvej 1, Roskilde DK-4000, Denmark

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:12  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-12

Published: 22 January 2014



Temporal variation in the genetic structure of populations can be caused by multiple factors, including natural selection, stochastic environmental variation, migration, or genetic drift. In benthic marine species, the developmental mode of larvae may indicate a possibility for temporal genetic variation: species with dispersive planktonic larvae are expected to be more likely to show temporal genetic variation than species with benthic or brooded non-dispersive larvae, due to differences in larval mortality and dispersal ability. We examined temporal genetic structure in populations of Pygospio elegans, a poecilogonous polychaete with within-species variation in developmental mode. P. elegans produces either planktonic, benthic, or intermediate larvae, varying both among and within populations, providing a within-species test of the generality of a relationship between temporal genetic variation and larval developmental mode.


In contrast to our expectations, our microsatellite analyses of P. elegans revealed temporal genetic stability in the UK population with planktonic larvae, whereas there was variation indicative of drift in temporal samples of the populations from the Baltic Sea, which have predominantly benthic and intermediate larvae. We also detected temporal variation in relatedness within these populations. A large temporal shift in genetic structure was detected in a population from the Netherlands, having multiple developmental modes. This shift could have been caused by local extiction due to extreme environmental conditions and (re)colonization by planktonic larvae from neighboring populations.


In our study of P. elegans, temporal genetic variation appears to be due to not only larval developmental mode, but also the stochastic environment of adults. Large temporal genetic shifts may be more likely in marine intertidal habitats (e.g. North Sea and Wadden Sea) which are more prone to environmental stochasticity than the sub-tidal Baltic habitats. Sub-tidal and/or brackish (less saline) habitats may support smaller P. elegans populations and these may be more susceptible to the effects of random genetic drift. Moreover, higher frequencies of asexual reproduction and the benthic larval developmental mode in these populations leads to higher relatedness and contributes to drift. Our results indicate that a general relationship between larval developmental mode and temporal genetic variation may not exist.

Pygospio elegans; Poecilogony; Population genetics; Developmental mode; Genetic drift; Temporal; Sweepstakes reproductive success; Full-sibs