Lack of correspondence between genetic and morphologic variability patterns in atlantic herring (Clupea harengus)

Nils Ryman, Ulf Lagercrantz, Leif Andersson, Ranajit Chakraborty, Rutger Rosenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


The Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) stock complex is confusing from the perspectives of both evolutionary biology and systematics. There are numerous ecologically and morphologically divergent stocks classified as species, subspecies, races, tribes, etc. with an unknown degree of genetic differentiation and reproductive isolation between them. The genetic population structure of herring from the Scandinavian waters was analysed electrophoretically. The pattern for distribution of genetic variation was compared to that of the morphological characters most frequently used for stock classification, i.e., the number of vertebrae and keeled scales. Fish were collected from 17 locations distributed from the northern Gulf of Bothnia to the north-east Atlantic off the west coast of Norway. The genetic analysis was based on 17 electrophoretic loci, 13 of which were variable. There are statistically significant allele frequency heterogeneities, but there is a conspicuously small amount of genetic differentiation, even between stocks classified as representing different subspecies. More than 99 per cent of the total gene diversity was found within populations, and genetic distances are typically of the order of 0-001. The genotypic distribution of the total material is very similar to the one expected if all the samples had been drawn from a single panmictic population. There appears to be no association between the variation of morphological characters and that at electrophoretic loci, and this is true for the variation between as well as within samples. Data suggest that stocks either diverged rather recently or that the amount of gene flow between groups of fish classified as stocks has been large enough to prevent substantial differentiation, and that morphologic and ecologic divergence may to a large extent be environmentally induced.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)687-704
Number of pages18
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1984


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