The Fleet (southern England) is a stable (ca. 5,000 years) coastal saline lagoon that supports a population of Alcyonidium resembling the common coastal epiphyte, Alcyonidium gelatinosum (L.). A combination of morphological, reproductive, and ecological characters was used to compare lagoonal and non-lagoonal proximate populations. Comparisons revealed a difference in the timing of spawning, considered to be related to the temporally restricted availability of viable substrata within the lagoonal basin. Allochronous spawning and spatial separation together suggest that the lagoonal taxon is reproductively isolated. The two populations were further compared with seven other coastal populations of Alcyonidium using randomly amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) analysis. The results confirm the individuality of the lagoonal taxon but also a close relationship with three A. gelatinosum populations. We present and consider four hypotheses that may account for the presence of this genetically distinct taxon: (1) diversification within the Fleet; (2) colonisation from another lagoon; (3) a southern lagoonal species at its northern limit; and (4) introduction by shipping or other anthropogenically mediated dispersal mechanism. Significant diversification on the time scale involved has been demonstrated for isolated freshwater environments and, therefore, is feasible within a saline lagoon. Hypothesis I and, to a lesser extent, hypothesis 2 are consistent with the recognition of individual lagoons as 'biogeographic' islands of importance for their unique or characteristic biodiversity. The study also represents the first example of concordant morphological, reproductive, and genetic diversification in a marine bryozoan.
- FRESH-WATER BRYOZOAN
- RAPD MARKERS