The history of repeated inter- or transoceanic invasions in bivalve mollusks of the circumpolar Macoma balthica complex was assessed from mtDNA COIII sequences. The data suggest that four independent trans-Arctic invasions, from the Pacific, gave rise to the current lineage diversity in the North Atlantic. Unlike in many other prominent North Atlantic littoral taxa, no evidence for (postinvasion) trans-Atlantic connections was found in the M. balthica complex. The earliest branch of the mtDNA tree is represented by the temperate-boreal North American populations (= Macoma petalum), separated from the M. balthica complex proper in the Early Pliocene at latest. The ensuing trans-Arctic invasions established the North European M. b. rubra, which now prevails on the North Sea and northeast Atlantic coasts, about two million years ago, and the currently northwest Atlantic M. balthica lineage in the Canadian Maritimes, in the Middle Pleistocene. The final reinvasion(s) introduced a lineage that now prevails in a number of North European marginal seas and is still hardly distinguishable from North Pacific mtDNA (M. b. balthica). We used coalescence simulation analyses to assess the age of the latest invasion from the Pacific to the northeast Atlantic. The results refute the hypothesis of recent, human-mediated reintroductions between northeast Pacific and the North European marginal seas in historical times. Yet they also poorly fit the alternative hypotheses of an early postglacial trans-Arctic invasion (< 11 thousand years ago), or an invasion during the previous Eemian interglacial (120 thousand years ago). Divergence time estimates rather fall in the Middle Weichselian before the Last Glacial Maximum, in conflict with the conventional thinking of trans-Arctic biogeographical connections; an early Holocene reinvasion may still be regarded as the most plausible scenario. Today, the most recently invaded Pacific mtDNA lineage is found admixed with the earlier established European Atlantic “rubra” lineage in the Baltic Sea and in Barents Sea populations east of the Varanger peninsula, and it is practically exclusive in the White and Pechora seas. Yet mtDNA does not always constitute an unequivocal taxonomic marker at individual level; the marginal populations represent hybrid swarms of the Atlantic and Pacific lineages in their nuclear genes.
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Vol. 61 • No. 4