Whole genome genotyping reveals discrete genetic diversity in north-east Atlantic maerl beds

Tom L. Jenkins*, Marie Laure Guillemin, Cornelia Simon-Nutbrown, Heidi L. Burdett, Jamie R. Stevens, Viviana Peña

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
43 Downloads (Pure)


Maerl beds are vital habitats for a diverse array of marine species across trophic levels, but they are increasingly threatened by human activities and climate change. Furthermore, little is known about the genetic diversity of maerl-forming species and the population structure of maerl beds, both of which are important for understanding the ability of these species to adapt to changing environments and for informing marine reserve planning. In this study, we used a whole genome genotyping approach to explore the population genomics of Phymatolithon calcareum, a maerl-forming red algal species, whose geographical distribution spans the north-east Atlantic, from Norway to Portugal. Our results, using 14,150 genome-wide SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms), showed that P. calcareum maerl beds across the north-east Atlantic are generally structured geographically, a pattern likely explained by low dispersal potential and limited connectivity between regions. Additionally, we found that P. calcareum from the Fal Estuary, south-west England, is genetically distinct from all other P. calcareum sampled, even from The Manacles, a site located only 13 km away. Further analysis revealed that this finding is not the result of introgression from two closely related species, Phymatolithon purpureum or Lithothamnion corallioides. Instead, this unique diversity may have been shaped over time by geographical isolation of the Fal Estuary maerl bed and a lack of gene flow with other P. calcareum populations. The genomic data presented in this study suggest that P. calcareum genetic diversity has accumulated over large temporal and spatial scales, the preservation of which will be important for maximizing the resilience of this species to changes in climate and the environment. Moreover, our findings underline the importance of managing the conservation of maerl beds across western Europe as distinct units, at a site-by-site level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1558-1571
Number of pages14
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Issue number6
Early online date13 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • conservation management
  • coralline algae
  • maerl
  • mitogenome
  • plastome
  • population genetic structure
  • rhodolith
  • single nucleotide polymorphism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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