In the past decade, the study of dispersal of marine organisms has shifted from focusing predominantly on the larval stage to a recent interest in adult movement. Antitropical distributions provide a unique system to assess vagility and dispersal. In this study, we have focused on an antitropical wrasse genus, Semicossyphus, which includes the California sheephead, S. pulcher, and Darwin's sheephead, S. darwini. Using a phylogenetic approach based on mitochondrial and nuclear markers, and a population genetic approach based on mitochondrial control region sequences and 10 microsatellite loci, we compared the phylogenetic relationships of these two species, as well as the population genetic characteristics within S. pulcher. While S. pulcher and S. darwini are found in the temperate eastern Pacific regions of the northern and southern hemispheres, respectively, their genetic divergence was very small (estimated to have occurred between 200 and 600 kya). Within S. pulcher, genetic structuring was generally weak, especially along mainland California, but showed weak differentiation between Sea of Cortez and California, and between mainland California and Channel Islands. We highlight the congruence of weak genetic differentiation both within and between species and discuss possible causes for maintenance of high gene flow. In particular, we argue that deep and cooler water refugia are used as stepping stones to connect distant populations, resulting in low levels of genetic differentiation.



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