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Predicted extinction of unique genetic diversity in marine forests of Cystoseira spp.

Buonomo, Roberto, Chefaoui, Rosa M., Lacida, Ricardo Bermejo, Engelen, Aschwin H., Serrão, Ester A., Airoldi, Laura
Marine environmental research 2018 v.138 pp. 119-128
Cystoseira, climate change, ecosystems, extinction, forests, genetic erosion, genetic variation, macroalgae, models, niches, population structure, risk, Mediterranean Sea
Climate change is inducing shifts in species ranges across the globe. These can affect the genetic pools of species, including loss of genetic variability and evolutionary potential. In particular, geographically enclosed ecosystems, like the Mediterranean Sea, have a higher risk of suffering species loss and genetic erosion due to barriers to further range shifts and to dispersal. In this study, we address these questions for three habitat-forming seaweed species, Cystoseira tamariscifolia, C. amentacea and C. compressa, throughout their entire ranges in the Atlantic and Mediterranean regions. We aim to 1) describe their population genetic structure and diversity, 2) model the present and predict the future distribution and 3) assess the consequences of predicted future range shifts for their population genetic structure, according to two contrasting future climate change scenarios. A net loss of suitable areas was predicted in both climatic scenarios across the range of distribution of the three species. This loss was particularly severe for C. amentacea in the Mediterranean Sea (less 90% in the most extreme climatic scenario), suggesting that the species could become potentially at extinction risk. For all species, genetic data showed very differentiated populations, indicating low inter-population connectivity, and high and distinct genetic diversity in areas that were predicted to become lost, causing erosion of unique evolutionary lineages. Our results indicated that the Mediterranean Sea is the most threatened region, where future suitable Cystoseira habitats will become more limited. This is likely to have wider ecosystem impacts as there is a lack of species with the same ecological niche and functional role in the Mediterranean. The projected accelerated loss of already fragmented and disturbed populations and the long-term genetic effects highlight the urge for local scale management strategies that sustain the capacity of these habitat-forming species to persist despite climatic impacts while waiting for global emission reductions.