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New markers—old questions: population genetics of seagrasses
Reusch, Th.B.H. (2001). New markers—old questions: population genetics of seagrasses. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 211: 261-274
In: Marine Ecology Progress Series. Inter-Research: Oldendorf/Luhe. ISSN 0171-8630, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Reusch, Th.B.H.

    Marine angiosperms, or seagrasses, continue to be a major focus of marine biologists because of their important ecological role in many coastal ecosystems. Seagrass population biology could benefit from a population genetic perspective because genetic data enable the extraction of useful demographic information such as isolation and gene flow between demes. Moreover, population genetic processes may contribute to the growing ecological risks of local population extinction. Progress in seagrass genetics is partly driven by novel genetic markers which detect variation at the DNA level and overcome the limited polymorphism of allozymes. Key results of studies in the past decade, mostly using RAPD and microsatellites, were (1) considerable genetic and genotypic (clonal) diversity is present in several species in contrast to earlier notions of low polymorphism detected at allozyme loci, and (2) genetic differentiation among populations seems to be the rule despite earlier reports of genetic uniformity. Pronounced genetic structure was detected between populations of 4 species examined thus far (Posidonia oceanica, P. australis, Zostera marina, Thalassia testudinum). The FST estimates varied widely and ranged from 0.01 to 0.623 across studies and species. Genetic differentiation at a systematic range of scales was only studied in eelgrass Zostera marina, where it was positively correlated with geographic distance. The high polymorphism of RAPD or microsatellite markers will allow the augmention of indirect estimates of gene flow by methods detecting individual immigration events through paternity analysis or assignment tests. Important conservation related issues such as the level of inbreeding and the effective population size have also been obtained from genetic marker data, but results are too scarce at the moment to allow generalizations. In Zostera marina and Posidonia australis, several population genetic attributes such as clonal diversity, mating system and effective population size varied among populations within species, highlighting that there is no ‘typical’ population. An important gap in our knowledge is whether the effects of natural population fragmentation and patchiness enhance the genetic isolation of populations due to anthropogenic disturbances. It is also unclear whether genetic differentiation displayed at marker loci are correlated with fitness-related plant traits, and whether genetic or genotypic diversity is important for medium- to long-term meadow persistence. An assessment of the genetic and genotypic diversity at marker loci should be combined with experiments on the ecological plasticity and reaction norms of genotypes composing the populations in question. This way, the role of genetic diversity for seagrass population maintenance and growth in the face of changing environmental conditions can be evaluated.

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