MEPS 448:223-233 (2012)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps09386

Eelgrass restoration by seed maintains genetic diversity: case study from a coastal bay system

Laura K. Reynolds1,*, Michelle Waycott2, Karen J. McGlathery1, Robert J. Orth3, Joseph C. Zieman1

1Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22904, USA
2School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia
3Virginia Institute of Marine Science, The College of William and Mary, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA

ABSTRACT: Genetic diversity is positively associated with plant fitness, stability, and the provision of ecosystem services. Preserving genetic diversity is therefore considered an important component of ecosystem restoration as well as a measure of its success. We examined the genetic diversity of restored Zostera marina meadows in a coastal bay system along the USA mid-Atlantic coast using microsatellite markers to compare donor and recipient meadows. We show that donor meadows in Chesapeake Bay have high genetic diversity and that this diversity is maintained in meadows restored with seeds in the Virginia coastal bays. No evidence of inbreeding depression was detected (FIS −0.2 to 0) in either donor or recipient meadows, which is surprising because high levels of inbreeding were expected following the population contractions that occurred in Chesapeake Bay populations due to disease and heat stress. Additionally, there was no evidence for selection of genotypes at the restoration sites, suggesting that as long as donor sites are chosen carefully, issues that diminish fitness and survival such as heterosis or out-breeding depression can be avoided. A cluster analysis showed that, in addition to the Chesapeake Bay populations that acted as donors, the Virginia coastal bay populations shared a genetic signal with Chincoteague Bay populations, their closest neighbor to the north, suggesting that natural recruitment into the area may be occurring and augmenting restored populations. We hypothesize that the high genetic diversity in seagrasses restored using seeds rather than adult plants confers a greater level of ecosystem resilience to the restored meadows.


KEY WORDS: Seagrass · Zostera marina · Restoration · Genetic diversity · Microsatellite DNA


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Cite this article as: Reynolds LK, Waycott M, McGlathery KJ, Orth RJ, Zieman JC (2012) Eelgrass restoration by seed maintains genetic diversity: case study from a coastal bay system. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 448:223-233. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps09386

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