Maintaining and enabling evolutionary processes within meta-populations is critical to resistance, resilience and adaptive potential. Knowledge about which populations act as sources or sinks, and the direction of gene flow, can help to focus conservation efforts more effectively and forecast how populations might respond to future anthropogenic and environmental pressures. As a foundation species and habitat provider, Zostera marina (eelgrass) is of critical importance to ecosystem functions including fisheries. Here we estimate connectivity of Z. marina in the Skagerrak-Kattegat region of the North Sea based on genetic and biophysical modelling. Genetic diversity, population structure and migration were analysed at 23 locations using 20 microsatellite loci and a suite of analytical approaches. Oceanographic connectivity was analysed using Lagrangian dispersal simulations based on contemporary and historical distribution data dating back to the late 19th century. Population clusters, barriers and networks of connectivity were found to be very similar based on either genetic or oceanographic analyses. A single-generation model of dispersal was not realistic, whereas multi-generation models that integrate stepping-stone dispersal and extant and historic distribution data were able to capture and model genetic connectivity patterns well. Passive rafting of flowering shoots along oceanographic currents is the main driver of gene flow at this spatial-temporal scale and extant genetic connectivity strongly reflects the “ghost of dispersal past” sensu Benzie 1999. The identification of distinct clusters, connectivity hotspots and areas where connectivity has become limited over the last century is critical information for spatial management, conservation and restoration of eelgrass.
The data package contains two datasets:
- Microsatellite genotypes
- Oceanographic connectivity matrices