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The sea hare Bursatella leachii (de Blainville 1817) (Mollusca: Gastropoda: Heterobranchia: Aplysiidae) is a pantropical sea slug that has colonized the Mediterranean Sea in modern times. Because the initial records in the non-native range started in the Eastern Mediterranean, and its pattern of spread was relatively consistent with those observed in well-known Lessepsian invaders, B. leachii is commonly considered to be a migrant from the Red Sea. In this study, we investigate for the first time the origin of the Mediterranean populations of B. leachii inferring their population structure and assessing relatedness levels of different regional populations. Sequence data from the cytochrome oxidase I were used to conduct population genetic analyses on this species, particularly by investigating the genetic structure of Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Indo-Pacific populations. Our results confirm that B. leachii is a truly pantropical species which displays geographic structure among major ocean basins. More importantly, sequenced Mediterranean and Atlantic animals share similar or identical haplotypes, which are distinct in at least 5 substitutions from haplotypes recovered from Indo-Pacific specimens. The results suggest that the Mediterranean population of B. leachii here examined probably have an Atlantic origin, and for the first time casts doubts on the assumed primary pathway of migration into the Mediterranean Sea.
Bazzicalupo, E., Crocetta, F., Estores-Pacheco, K., Golestani, H., Bazairi, H., Giacobbe, S., … Valdés, Á. (2018). Population genetics of Bursatella leachii (De Blainville, 1817) and implications for the origin of the Mediterranean population. Helgoland Marine Research, 72(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s10152-018-0521-7