Scientific publication

Ocean currents shaping genetic differentiation of marine forests

Credits: Photo by Francisco Kemeny on Unsplash

The genetic diversity of marine forests arises from complex eco-evolutionary interactions. Our research focuses on the significant role that oceanographic connectivity—driven by water transport and dispersal—plays in shaping this diversity on a global scale.

Key findings: It’s all about connections

It turns out that ocean currents play a much bigger role than previously thought in shaping the genetic makeup of marine forests across the globe. These currents act as underwater highways, carrying propagules from one population to another.

  1. Eco-Evolutionary Puzzle: We combined genetic data from nearly 700 seaweed populations with cutting-edge models of ocean currents. This allowed us to piece together the complex puzzle of how site-specific factors, ocean connectivity, and even rare long-distance dispersal events interact to shape genetic diversity.
  2. The 18.7% Surprise: Our research shows that almost one-fifth (18.7%) of the variation in genetic diversity across marine forests can be directly linked to the patterns of ocean circulation. This is a significant finding!
  3. Global Implications: This isn’t just about seaweed. Understanding how connected different populations are has major implications for marine conservation. It means we can better identify which areas to protect, ensuring that these vital ecosystems remain healthy and resilient in the face of climate change and other threats.

Why this matters?

Marine forests are like the underwater equivalent of rainforests – teeming with life and providing essential habitats for countless species. They also play a key role in capturing carbon and supporting fisheries. By understanding the drivers that shape their genetic diversity, we’re taking a big step towards safeguarding these precious ecosystems for future generations.

Main reference

Legrand, T., Fragkopoulou, E., Vapillon, L., Gouvêa, L., Serrão, E. A., & Assis, J. (2024). Unravelling the role of oceanographic connectivity in the distribution of genetic diversity of marine forests at the global scale. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 00, e13857.

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Jorge Assis [PhD, Associate Researcher]
Centre of Marine Sciences, University of Algarve [Faro, Portugal]
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