Spatial pattern of genetic diversity in a habitat forming species in a network of Marine Protected Areas.

Master Thesis subject (30 ECTS)
Genetic diversity is of particular concern for conservation biologists due to its effects on population recovery, species interactions or community structure (Schoener 2011;Hufbauer et al. 2015). In the current biodiversity crisis, our ability to infer the eco-evolutionary processes shaping and maintaining spatial patterns of genetic diversity is thus key to propose efficient conservation policies (Crandall et al. 2000; Hendry et al. 2010). Nevertheless, while the importance of evolution in conservation biology is now widely recognized, eco-evolutionary processes are only barely considered in conservation practice and policies (Mace 2008). Networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), some of the main tools to mitigate the impact of global change on marine biodiversity, are a good illustration of the gap existing between ecology, evolutionary biology and conservation practices (Gaines et al. 2010). First, the vast majority of MPA networks is focused on the conservation of economically important fish stocks while the maximization of biodiversity has been somewhat disregarded (Beger et al. 2003). Then, patterns of genetic diversity and underlying processes are only rarely taken into account. In this context, the present study will take part into filling this gap between ecology, evolutionary biology and conservation practices. More particularly, we will conduct a comparative population genetics study between two Mediterranean habitat-forming octocorals, the red coral, Corallium rubrum, and the red gorgonian, Paramuricea clavata, in a network of MPAs along the Catalan coast (Natural Park of Cap de Creus; Natural Park of Montgri, Medes Islands and Baix Ter). The importance of considering habitat-forming species in the management of MPAs has been recently emphasized due to their central ecological role (Palumbi et al. 2007). Moreover, comparative studies between species allow inferring the relative impact of species-specific processes vs. shared environmental factors (e.g. environmental barrier) on the patterns of diversity (Selkoe et al. 2014). A previous genetic survey based 13 populations of P. clavata (Arizmendi-Meija 2015) was conducted in the region demonstrating the occurrence of three main genetic clusters (Cap de Creus vs. Medes vs. Montgri) characterized by contrasted levels of isolation. More particularly, we suggested the occurrence of a quasi-impermeable barrier to gene flow between Montgri and the two remaining clusters without link with the geographic distance. Based on a comparable sampling scheme (i.e. from 10 to 15 populations in the same MPAs network) in C. rubrum and using previously developed microsatellite markers, the objectives of the project are: 1) to characterize the spatial pattern of genetic structure in C. rubrum; 2) to infer the underlying eco-evolutionary processes with particular emphasize on genetic connectivity and genetic drift; 3) to contrast the results with those previously obtained for P. clavata in order to point processes shaping the genetic diversity across species. The master student will be involved in the different steps of the project with the exception of the sampling, which will be conduct during spring and summer 2016. These steps include molecular work (DNA extraction, PCR amplification), genotyping (allele scoring) and statistical analysis (genetic diversity, genetic structure, species comparisons). The obtained results will be discussed in a conservation biology framework. This project should shed new light on the ecology of the two studied species with direct implication for the management practices of the studied MPA network. References: Arizmendi-Mejia R (2015) Conservation of marine habitat-forming species under climate change:population genetics and demographic responses of the Mediterranean red gorgonian Paramuricea clavata, PhD thesis, Universitat de Barcelona. Beger M, Jones GP, Munday PL (2003) Conservation of coral reef biodiversity: A comparison of reserve sélection procedures for corals and fishes. Biological Conservation; 111, 53–62. Crandall KA, Bininda-Emonds ORP, Mace GM, Wayne RK (2000) Considering evolutionary processes in conservation biology. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 15, 290–295. Gaines SD, White C, Carr MH, Palumbi SR (2010) Designing marine reserve networks for both conservation and fisheries management. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,107,18286-18293 Hendry AP, Lohmann LG, Conti E et al. (2010) Evolutionary biology in biodiversity science, conservation, and policy: a call to action. Evolution, 64, 1517–28. Hufbauer RA, Szűcs M, Kasyon E et al. (2015) Three types of rescue can avert extinction in a changing environment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112, 10557–10562. Mace GM, Purvis A (2008) Evolutionary biology and practical conservation: bridging a widening gap. Molecular Ecology, 17, 9–19. Palumbi SR, Sandifer PA, Allan JD, Beck MW, Fautin DG, Fogarty MJ, et al. (2009) Managing for ocean biodiversity to sustain marine ecosystem services. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7, 204–211. Selkoe 2014, Gaggiotti O, ToBo laboratory, et al. (2014) Emergent pattern of population genetic structure for a coral reef community. Molecular Ecology, 23, 3064-3079.
Number of students: 
academic year: 
Contact person email: 
contact person first name: 
Jean-Baptiste Ledoux
Other people involved: 
Dr. Joaquim Garrabou (Instituto de Ciencias del Mar, ICM-CSIC, Barcelona, Spain) Dr. Cristina Linares (Barcelona University, Barcelona, Spain) Dr. Frédérique Viard (UMR 7144 UMPC-CNRS, SBR Roscoff, France)
Reference Number: RP-41071