Ecology and Evolution
School of Science / Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research
Edith Cowan University / Department of Education and Training, Collaborative Research Network Program / Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education / Western Australian Marine Science Institution / WAMSI Kimberley Research Program: Project 1.1.3 Ec / Open access publishing facilitated by Edith Cowan University, as part of the Wiley - Edith Cowan University agreement via the Council of Australian University Librarians
Understanding patterns of gene flow and processes driving genetic differentiation is important for a broad range of conservation practices. In marine organisms, genetic differentiation among populations is influenced by a range of spatial, oceanographic, and environmental factors that are attributed to the seascape. The relative influences of these factors may vary in different locations and can be measured using seascape genetic approaches. Here, we applied a seascape genetic approach to populations of the seagrass, Thalassia hemprichii, at a fine spatial scale (~80 km) in the Kimberley coast, western Australia, a complex seascape with strong, multidirectional currents greatly influenced by extreme tidal ranges (up to 11 m, the world's largest tropical tides). We incorporated genetic data from a panel of 16 microsatellite markers, overwater distance, oceanographic data derived from predicted passive dispersal on a 2 km-resolution hydrodynamic model, and habitat characteristics from each meadow sampled. We detected significant spatial genetic structure and asymmetric gene flow, in which meadows 12–14 km apart were less connected than ones 30–50 km apart. This pattern was explained by oceanographic connectivity and differences in habitat characteristics, suggesting a combined scenario of dispersal limitation and facilitation by ocean current with local adaptation. Our findings add to the growing evidence for the key role of seascape attributes in driving spatial patterns of gene flow. Despite the potential for long-distance dispersal, there was significant genetic structuring over small spatial scales implicating dispersal and recruitment bottlenecks and highlighting the importance of implementing local-scale conservation and management measures.
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