Population structure of zostera marina (Eelgrass) on the Western Atlantic Coast is characterized by poor connectivity and inbreeding

James J. Campanella, Paul A. Bologna, John V. Smalley, Eric B. Rosenzweig, Stephanie M. Smith

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17 Scopus citations


Zostera marina (eelgrass) can be found in the North Atlantic on the coast of Europe and on the east and west coasts of North America. Over the last 30 years, this once robust species has been reduced to sparse patchy populations due to disease and anthropogenic effects. In order to better understand the consequences of this devastation on the population genetics of the species, we have analyzed the population structure of western Atlantic Z. marina, employing microsatellite DNA polymorphisms. Although high fixation index values suggest moderate genetic differentiation among most of the Z. marina sites, population diversity was low. This lack of diversity was supported by a general dearth of observable heterozygotes in these sites; mean observed heterozygosity values (0.14-0.46) were lower than the mean expected heterozygosity values (0.57-0.81). Additionally, the mean FIS (coefficient of local inbreeding) values in these sites were positive, again indicating a surfeit of homozygotes. Allelic richness suggests that Chesapeake Bay has the greatest internal genetic diversity of the sites studied. Inbreeding seems prevalent in these American populations, suggesting possible reproductive fitness problems in the future. There is evidence of demographic bottlenecking and particularly low genetic diversity in Long Island. Northern Maine had the highest effective population size, suggesting a possible use in future restoration projects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-70
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Heredity
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010


  • Eelgrass
  • Genetic diversity
  • Microsatellites
  • Population genetics
  • Zostera marina


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