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Feed-backs between genetic structure and perturbation-driven decline in seagrass (Posidonia oceanica) meadows

Diaz-Almela, Elena, Arnaud-Haond, Sophie, Vliet, Mirjam S., Álvarez, Elvira, Marbà, Núria, Duarte, Carlos M., Serrão, Ester A.
Conservation genetics 2007 v.8 no.6 pp. 1377-1391
Posidonia oceanica, alleles, fish cages, fish farms, foraging, genetic variation, genotype, meadows, microsatellite repeats, mortality, pollution load, population dynamics, seagrasses, shoots, t-test
We explored the relationships between perturbation-driven population decline and genetic/genotypic structure in the clonal seagrass Posidonia oceanica, subject to intensive meadow regression around four Mediterranean fish-farms, using seven specific microsatellites. Two meadows were randomly sampled (40 shoots) within 1,600 m² at each site: the “impacted” station, 5-200 m from fish cages, and the “control” station, around 1,000 m downstream further away (considered a proxy of the pre-impact genetic structure at the site). Clonal richness (R), Simpson genotypic diversity (D*) and clonal sub-range (CR) were highly variable among sites. Nevertheless, the maximum distance at which clonal dispersal was detected, indicated by CR, was higher at impacted stations than at the respective control station (paired t-test: P < 0.05, N = 4). The mean number of alleles (Â) and the presence of rare alleles ( r) decreased at impacted stations (paired t-test: P < 0.05, and P < 0.02, respectively, N = 4). At a given perturbation level (quantified by the organic and nutrient loads), shoot mortality at the impacted stations significantly decreased with CR at control stations (R ² = 0.86, P < 0.05). Seagrass mortality also increased with  (R ² = 0.81, P < 0.10), R (R ² = 0.96, P < 0.05) and D* (R ² = 0.99, P < 0.01) at the control stations, probably because of the negative correlation between those parameters and CR. Therefore, the effects of clonal size structure on meadow resistance could play an important role on meadow survival. Large genotypes of P. oceanica meadows thus seem to resist better to fish farm-derived impacts than little ones. Clonal integration, foraging advantage or other size-related fitness traits could account for this effect.