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Title: Conservation of marine habitat-forming species under climate change: population genetics and demographic responses of the Mediterranean red gorgonian Paramuricea clavata.
Author: Arizmendi Mejía, Rosana
Director: Linares Prats, Cristina
Ledoux, Jean-Baptiste
Keywords: Paramuricea clavata
Canvis climàtics
Genètica de poblacions
Reserves marines
Climatic changes
Population Genetics
Marine protected areas
Issue Date: 25-Nov-2015
Publisher: Universitat de Barcelona
Abstract: [eng] Climate change, along with other anthropogenic pressures (e.g. water pollution, overfishing and habitat degradation), is severely impacting oceans around the world, producing important changes in its physical and biological structure, and causing marine biodiversity to decline. In this context, the enhancement of conservation and management strategies that mitigate such stressors (e.g. Marine Protected Areas, MPAs) is urgent. In this thesis, we studied the population genetics and ecological responses to warming of the Mediterranean red gorgonian Paramuricea clavata (Risso 1826), in order to contribute to the design of more effective conservation and management measures for this and other similar species. P. clavata is a long-lived, slow-growing, low dispersal and highly vulnerable habitat-forming organism from the coralligenous assemblages. During the last decades, it has been severely impacted by mass mortality events (MME) caused by climate change-related thermal anomalies. P. clavata is essential to maintain biodiversity as it forms habitat for other organisms and it greatly contributes to habitat's biomass and complexity. Although the inclusion of habitat formers in the design of MPAs is fundamental to improve the effectiveness of biodiversity protection, these organisms have been generally neglected in the planning of MPAs, which, instead, have been historically designed for the protection of commercially important species. In this thesis, we developed an interdisciplinary approach focused on (i) population genetics, emphasizing on evolutionary processes acting over contemporary timescales, and (ii) on demographic responses to warming. First, we compared the functioning of continuous and isolated metapopulations of P. clavata, in terms of spatial genetic structure and underlying evolutionary processes. A group of genetically differentiated populations was detected in a geographically continuous area, indicating that in addition to geographic isolation, genetic isolation should also be considered in the design of MPAs. Genetically isolated metapopulations exhibited significantly lower genetic diversity and higher genetic differentiation compared to continuous metapopulations. Moreover, the influence of drift was higher in isolated metapopulations. These results suggest that isolated metapopulations may be at higher extinction risk than their continuous counterparts. Second, we used an eco-evolutionary approach combining demographic and genetic data to establish conservation priorities in an isolated metapopulation. We demonstrated a relation between partial mortality (caused by MME), effective population size (Ne) and number of alleles that indicated that the less diverse and most isolated demes, which were undergoing the largest effect of drift, were the most affected by MME. These populations should therefore be of high conservation priority. We detected a newly established population, which was also prioritized for conservation, as it was mainly composed by juvenile colonies. Surprisingly, no founder effect was observed, as its genetic diversity was high and colonies came from different populations Third, we experimentally tested the role of reproductive maturity and sex on the vulnerability of the red gorgonian to warming. The highest vulnerability of adults versus juveniles and of females versus males results in a decline of fertilization rates, larval production and recruitment success, suggesting that red gorgonian populations may collapse in a warmer future. The relevance of our results is discussed in the light of climate change, and several conservation and management strategies that should be implemented to enhance the conservation of P. clavata and its associated communities are proposed. Moreover, this thesis provides valuable information to improve the effectiveness of MPAs within the context of climate change and it strengthen the previous foundations of knowledge that are essential to pursue further research. Given the key role of P. clavata as a habitat former, the results obtained in this work may also serve as guidelines to enhance the protection of other habitat-forming species with similar life history traits.
Appears in Collections:Tesis Doctorals - Departament - Ecologia

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