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Eelgrass Genetic Diversity Influences Resilience to Stresses Associated with Eutrophication


Eelgrass (Zostera marina L.), an underwater marine flowering plant, has a high degree of morphological plasticity that allows it to survive and adapt to environmental changes. To test the effect of eelgrass genetic diversity (measured as allelic richness and observed heterozygosity) on resilience to stresses associated with eutrophication, eelgrass from ten genetically differentiated populations was studied in outdoor mesocosms. In a full factorial experiment lasting 3 months, eelgrass was subjected to two light levels (100 and 58% ambient) and two sediment treatments (1 and 8% organic content). Some populations of eelgrass showed higher resilience, measured as a combination of productivity and survival, when exposed to the stress of high sediment organic matter and, to a lesser extent, reduced light. Overall, eelgrass resilience correlated positively with eelgrass source population genetic diversity. The findings show that eelgrass resilience to stress typical of eutrophic estuaries (low light, high organic sediment) is improved by genetic diversity, with implications for transplantation, conservation, and management.

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Change history

  • 06 February 2020

    In the original version of the article, there was an error in the column headings on the second page of Table 7. Low OM × 100% light and Low OM × 58% light should be High OM × 100% light and High OM × 58%, respectively.


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We thank the University of New Hampshire and The Nature Conservancy for financial support. Additionally, we thank Jeffrey Plaisted, Tay Evans, Dylan Randazzo, Christine Ford, Jon Felch, Megan Holcomb, Chris Peter, and Max Overstrom-Coleman for assisting with mesocosm set-up and maintenance through the experiment, and Drs. Jennifer Walsh, Adrienne Kovach, and James Coyer for their guidance in analyzing the genetics data. For field support, we are grateful to Bradley Peterson, Kate Iaquinto, Jamie Vaudrey, the National Park Service, and Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS), especially the Natural Resource Management staff and visiting researchers, including Kelly Medeiros, Megan Tyrrell, Stephen Smith, Sophia Fox, and Ashby Nix, Agnes Mittermayr, William Thompson, Hilary Neckles and Ashley Norton for manuscript comments. Catherine Short reviewed and edited the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Holly K. Plaisted.

Additional information

The original version of this article was revised: There was an error in the column headings on the second page of Table 7. Low OM × 100% light and Low OM × 58% light are corrected to High OM × 100% light and High OM × 58%, respectively.

Communicated by Ken Dunton

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Plaisted, H.K., Novak, A.B., Weigel, S. et al. Eelgrass Genetic Diversity Influences Resilience to Stresses Associated with Eutrophication. Estuaries and Coasts (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-019-00669-0

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  • Seagrass
  • Zostera marina L.
  • Genetic diversity
  • Eutrophication
  • Resilience