In reciprocal transplant experiments, Bertness and Gaines (1993) found that Semibalanus balanoides juveniles that had settled in an upper Narragansett Bay estuary survived better in that estuary that did juveniles from coastal localities. The observed pattern of survivorship led to the claim that local adaptation may result from a combination of limited gene flow between and strong selection within these habitats. Here we test the hypothesis that limited gene flow has led to habitat-specific population differentiation using sequence and restriction fragment length polymorphism analyses of the mitochondrial DNA D-loop region of S. balanoides. Samples were analyzed from replicated coastal and estuary localities in both Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, and Damariscotta River, Maine. The patterns of FST indicate that gene flow between coast and estuary is extensive (Nm > 100) and is not lower in the estuary with lower flushing rates (Narragansett Bay). Given the high estimate of genetic exchange, adaptations for unpredictable environments seem more likely than local adaptation in this species because loci that respond to selection in one generation are essentially homogenized by the next seasons' settlement. Nevertheless, these estimates of neutral gene flow can help identify the strength of selection necessary for local adaptation to accumulate in Semibalanus.
Corresponding Editor: J. Neigel