The reef building vermetid gastropod Dendropoma petraeum inhabits the warmest waters of the Mediterranean Sea and is considered a threatened marine species. The aim of this study was to characterize its genetic structure throughout its whole distribution range using mitochondrial and nuclear sequence data. Because of its sessile adult lifestyle and lack of a pelagic larval stage, we expected a markedly subdivided population structure with limited levels of gene flow. Fragments of the mitochondrial genes cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) and 16S rRNA (16S), were sequenced, along with the nuclear ribosomal cluster (internal transcribed spacer; ITS) in specimens from 18 localities. Our analyses identified four highly distinct phylogroups separated by a mean divergence of > 14% according to the COI sequence data or > 9% according to 16S, but differing only slightly in morphology. The nuclear data (ITS) indicated a lower substitution rate (divergence among groups of around 1%). These large genetic distances among the four lineages clearly point to the existence of a cryptic species complex within D. petraeum comprising at least four species. Differences in the characteristics of intracapsular larval development and protoconch were also detected among these lineages. The allopatric distribution of these cryptic species supports a predominantly vicariant-based cladogenetic pattern for the genus Dendropoma in the Mediterranean.
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