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Title: Restoration genetics of north-west European saltmarshes: A multi-scale analysis of population genetic structure in Puccinellia maritima and Triglochin maritima
Author(s): Rouger, Romuald
Supervisor(s): Jump, Alistair
Vallejo-Marin, Mario
Keywords: Saltmarsh
Population genetics
Puccinellia maritima
Triglochin maritima
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Increasing human pressure combined with sea level rise and increased storminess is threatening coastal ecosystems around the world. Among these ecosystems, saltmarshes are particularly endangered due to their position in temperate areas with low wave action where human density is often high (e.g. estuaries). Around the UK, centuries of land reclamation have led to a substantial decrease of the area of saltmarsh. Over the past decades, restoration schemes have been implemented in numerous coastal locations in an attempt to counteract this loss. Such schemes involve allowing sea water to inundate a previously embanked area and letting the vegetation develop naturally, thereby reverting to saltmarsh through natural colonisation. However, surveys of restored areas that have looked at the recovery of plant species diversity or functional characteristics often show that restored saltmarshes do not reach the state of a natural saltmarsh ecosystem. While there is much data at the species level, recovery of plant intra-specific diversity (genetic diversity) has not been assessed in restored saltmarsh although this component of biodiversity is receiving increasing attention for its effect on ecosystem function. This thesis represents the first attempt to (1) characterize the nation-wide genetic structure of two important north-west European saltmarsh plant species, the common saltmarsh grass (Puccinellia maritima) and the sea arrowgrass (Triglochin maritima) and (2) compare levels of genetic diversity and structure between restored and natural ecosystems. Microsatellite molecular markers were developed for both species. Using innovative methods to analyse the genetic data obtained for these two polyploid species, this thesis highlights that genetic diversity at the national scale is organised regionally for both species, although gene-flow is still restricted between populations within the same region. Gene-flow between populations is determined by different processes depending on the species. While coastal processes mainly influence gene dispersal in P. maritima, overland routes of dispersal are involved for T. maritima. These differences are believed to be due to differences in dispersal ecology between the two species. Although gene-flow exists between distant saltmarshes, the genetic analysis of P. maritima and T. maritima colonists arriving on restored sites highlighted their local origin and reaffirmed that it is preferable to restore saltmarsh where a nearby natural saltmarsh can act as a source of colonists. A multiple paired-site comparison identified similar genetic diversity between restored and natural saltmarshes indicating that restoration of local genetic diversity is rapid for both species. A single site comparison at Skinflats in the Forth estuary compared fine-scale spatial genetic structure between the restored and natural saltmarsh. Interestingly, no structure was detected for T. maritima either in restored or natural saltmarsh. In contrast, a strong genetic structure organised along the elevation gradient was observed in the natural saltmarsh for P. maritima but was absent in the restored saltmarsh. The origin of this structure is not clear but could be due to restricted gene-flow between individuals from different elevations due to strong post-zygotic selection, as suggested in previous work. In any case, this lack of structure in the restored saltmarsh indicates that genetic recovery is incomplete in this respect for P. maritima. This thesis introduces the growing field of restoration genetics to saltmarsh ecology and identifies the principal population genetic trends in two of the species dominating the vegetation of north-west European saltmarshes community. The information given here will be useful for restoration practitioners and provides a strong foundation for future work characterizing the importance of genetic diversity for saltmarsh function.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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