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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Assessment of local genetic structure and connectivity of the common eelgrass (Zostera marina) for seagrass restoration in northern Europe

Lourdes Martínez-García, Bengt Hansson, Johan Hollander*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Seagrass meadows are one of the most important habitats in coastal regions since they constitute a multifunctional ecosystem providing high productivity and biodiversity. They play a key role in carbon sequestration capacity, mitigation against coastal erosion, and nursery grounds for many marine fish and invertebrates. However, despite these ecosystem functions and services, seagrass meadows are a threatened ecosystem worldwide. In the Baltic Sea, seagrass meadows have declined rapidly mainly because of eutrophication, anthropogenic activities and climate change. This decline has the potential to erode the genetic variation and genetic structure of the species. In this study, we assessed how genetic variation and genetic differentiation vary among Zostera marina meadows and with a number of environmental characteristics in the county of Scania in southern Sweden. A total of 205 individuals sampled at 12 locations were analysed with 10 polymorphic microsatellite loci. Results showed that in spite of anthropogenic impacts and climate change pressures, locations of Z. marina possess high genetic variation and weak genetic differentiation, with three major genetic clusters. Long-distance dispersal and/or stepping stone dispersal was found among locations, with higher migration rates within the west coast. Organic matter, salinity and maximum depth appeared to be factors most strongly associated with the genetic structure and morphological variation of Z. marina. These findings contribute significantly in the identification of potential donor sites and the viability of impacted areas to recover from natural recruitment, for the development of effective transplantation measures of Z. marina in the southern Baltic Sea and temperate regions elsewhere.