Have the warm tropical waters and currents of the southern Gulf of California, Mexico (also known as the Sea of Cortez), formed a barrier to gene flow, resulting in disjunct populations in the upper gulf that are isolated from the outer Pacific Coast? Phylogeographic and genetic divergences of the spotted sand bass, Paralabrax maculatofasciatus, from three Gulf of California and two outer Pacific coastal locations were tested using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region sequences. Sequence data from two congeners that are sympatrically distributed along the outer Pacific Coast, the barred sand bass, P. nebulifer, and the kelp bass, P. clathratus, were used to gauge the levels of genetic divergences. Differences among the three species and between the northern gulf and outer Pacific coastal populations of P. maculatofasciatus also were analyzed using 40 allozymic presumptive gene loci. Allozyme and mtDNA analyses each revealed many fixed differences among the species. Three significant allozymic frequency differences and two fixed mtDNA substitutions differentiated the gulf and outer Pacific coastal populations of P. maculatofasciatus. Three unique mtDNA haplotypes and three unique allozyme alleles were identified from the outer Pacific coastal population. The gulf sites contained four unique mtDNA haplotypes and six unique allozyme alleles. Partitioning of the mtDNA variation revealed that 72% of the variance occurred between the gulf and outer Pacific Coast, 20% between sampling sites in the two regions, and 8% within the sites. There appears to be little gene flow across the waters of the southern Baja Penninsula, producing divergence estimated as 120,000 to 600,000 years between the outer Pacific coastal and the Gulf of California populations. This separation level may date to a hypothesized seaway closure near La Paz, Mexico, during the mid-Pleistocene, and characterizes other fish populations. A second pattern of deeper allopatric species-level divergences in some other fishes may date to a Pliocene closure of a mid–Baja Penninsular seaway. Significant differences also were discerned in P. maculatofasciatus between the San Diego and central Baja California coastal sites and between the upper/central and the lower gulf locations. Variation between locations in the two regions may be indicative of larval retention and low adult migration, which needs to be tested further.
Corresponding Editor: S. Karl