Crossing the Divide: Admixture Across the Antarctic Polar Front Revealed by the Brittle Star Astrotoma agassizii
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The Antarctic Polar Front (APF) is one of the most well-defined and persistent oceanographic features on the planet and serves as a barrier to dispersal between the Southern Ocean and lower latitudes. High levels of endemism in the Southern Ocean have been attributed to this barrier, whereas the accompanying Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) likely promotes west-to-east dispersal. Previous phylogeographic work on the brittle star Astrotoma agassizii Lyman, 1875 based on mitochondrial genes suggested isolation across the APF, even though populations in both South American waters and the Southern Ocean are morphologically indistinguishable. Here, we revisit this finding using a high-resolution 2b-RAD (restriction-site-associated DNA) single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)-based approach, in addition to enlarged mitochondrial DNA data sets (16S rDNA, COI, and COII), for comparison to previous work. In total, 955 biallelic SNP loci confirmed the existence of strongly divergent populations on either side of the Drake Passage. Interestingly, genetic admixture was detected between South America and the Southern Ocean in five individuals on both sides of the APF, revealing evidence of recent or ongoing genetic contact. We also identified two differentiated populations on the Patagonian Shelf with six admixed individuals from these two populations. These findings suggest that the APF is a strong but imperfect barrier. Fluctuations in location and strength of the APF and ACC due to climate shifts may have profound consequences for levels of admixture or endemism in this region of the world.