The global extent of macroalgal forests is declining, greatly affecting marine biodiversity at broad scales through the effects macroalgae have on ecosystem processes, habitat provision, and food web support. Networks of marine protected areas comprise one potential tool that may safeguard gene flow among macroalgal populations in the face of increasing population fragmentation caused by pollution, habitat modification, climate change, algal harvesting, trophic cascades, and other anthropogenic stressors. Optimal design of protected area networks requires knowledge of effective dispersal distances for a range of macroalgae. We conducted a global meta-analysis based on data in the published literature to determine the generality of relation between genetic differentiation and geographic distance among macroalgal populations. We also examined whether spatial genetic variation differed significantly with respect to higher taxon, life history, and habitat characteristics. We found clear evidence of population isolation by distance across a multitude of macroalgal species. Genetic and geographic distance were positively correlated across 49 studies; a modal distance of 50–100 km maintained FST < 0.2. This relation was consistent for all algal divisions, life cycles, habitats, and molecular marker classes investigated. Incorporating knowledge of the spatial scales of gene flow into the design of marine protected area networks will help moderate anthropogenic increases in population isolation and inbreeding and contribute to the resilience of macroalgal forests.
Durrant, HMS, Burridge, CP, Kelaher, BP, Barrett, NS, Edgar, GJ & Coleman, MA 2014, 'Implications of macroalgal isolation by distance for networks of marine protected areas', Conservation Biology, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 438-445.
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