Population dynamics of marine species that are sessile as adults are driven by oceanographic dispersal of larvae from spawning to nursery grounds. This is mediated by life-history traits such as the timing and frequency of spawning, larval behaviour and duration, and settlement success. Here, we use 1725 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to study the fine-scale spatial genetic structure in the commercially important cockle species
Cerastoderma edule and compare it to environmental variables and current-mediated larval dispersal within a modelling framework. Hydrodynamic modelling employing the NEMO Atlantic Margin Model (AMM15) was used to simulate larval transport and estimate connectivity between populations during spawning months (April-September), factoring in larval duration and interannual variability of ocean currents. Results at neutral loci reveal the existence of three separate genetic clusters (mean
ST = 0.021) within a relatively fine spatial scale in the north-west Atlantic. Environmental association analysis indicates that oceanographic currents and geographic proximity explain over 20% of the variance observed at neutral loci, while genetic variance (71%) at outlier loci was explained by sea surface temperature extremes. These results fill an important knowledge gap in the management of a commercially important and overexploited species, bringing us closer to understanding the role of larval dispersal in connecting populations at a fine geographic scale.