More than meets the eye: The barrier effect of the Yangtze River outflow

Gang Ni, Elizabeth Kern, Yun Wei Dong, Qi Li, Joong Ki Park

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


The Yangtze (Changjiang) River enters the East China Sea with huge annual freshwater and sediment deposits. This outflow, known as the Changjiang diluted water (CDW), causes striking ecological gradients that potentially shape coastal species' distribution and differentiation. The CDW has long been rendered as a marine biogeographic boundary separating cold-temperature and warm-water faunas, but it remains unclear whether and to what extent it acts as an intraspecific barrier. Here, we synthesize published phylogeographic studies related to the CDW to address these issues. We find that the influence of the CDW on population differentiation is taxonomically variable, and even congeneric species may respond differently. In studies that claim the CDW is a phylogeographic barrier, the underlying assumptions explaining observed genetic breaks are sometimes incorrect, and some may have misinterpreted results due to conceptual confusion or insufficient geographic sampling. After excluding these studies, the remaining ones generally show shallow genetic divergence but significant population structure for coastal species across the CDW, suggesting that the CDW has not been a historically persistent barrier, but rather has acted as a filter within some species recently, probably after the last glacial maximum.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4591-4602
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number18
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Changjiang River
  • East China Sea
  • freshwater outflow barrier
  • marine phylogeography
  • marine population connectivity
  • northwestern Pacific


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