Stable populations in unstable habitats: temporal genetic structure of the introduced ascidian Styela plicata in North Carolina
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The analysis of temporal genetic variability is an essential yet largely neglected tool to unveil and predict the dynamics of introduced species. We here describe the temporal genetic structure and diversity over time of an introduced population of the ascidian Styela plicata (Lesueur, 1823) in Wilmington (North Carolina, USA, 34°08′24″N, 77°51′44″W). This population suffers important salinity and temperature changes, and in June every year we observed massive die-offs, leaving free substratum that was recolonized within a month. We sampled 12–14 individuals of S. plicata every 2 months from 2007 to 2009 (N = 196) and analyzed a mitochondrial marker (the gene cytochrome oxidase subunit I, COI) and seven nuclear microsatellites. Population genetic analyses showed similar results for both types of markers and revealed that most of the genetic variation was found within time periods. However, analyses conducted with microsatellite loci also showed weak but significant differences among time periods. Specifically, in the samplings after die-off episodes (August–November 2007 and 2008) the genetic diversity increased, the inbreeding coefficient showed prominent drops, and there was a net gain of alleles in the microsatellite loci. Taken together, our results suggest that recruits arriving from neighboring populations quickly occupied the newly available space, bringing new alleles with them. However, other shifts in genetic diversity and allele loss and gain episodes were observed in December–January and February–March 2008, respectively, and were apparently independent of die-off events. Overall, our results indicate that the investigated population is stable over time and relies on a periodic arrival of larvae from other populations, maintaining high genetic diversity and a complex interplay of allele gains and losses.
KeywordsMicrosatellite Locus Allelic Richness Massive Mortality Event Moderate Genetic Diversity Botryllus Schlosseri
Special thanks are to C. Valero-Jimenez, who designed and optimized the microsatellite primers and collaborated with the genotyping of some samples. This research was supported by a grant from the United States–Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF), Jerusalem, Israel (number 2014025), the Spanish Government project CTM2013—48163—and the Catalan Government Grant 2014SGR-336 for Consolidated Research Groups.
Compliance with ethical standards
The present study does not raise any ethical issues. While this study involves research on animals, ascidians are not under the regulation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Moreover, the number of collected animals was as low as possible and the manipulation was fast and painless.
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