Most species of brown macroalgae recruit exclusively sexually. However, Fucus radicans, a dominant species in the northern Baltic Sea, recruits new attached thalli both sexually and asexually. The level of asexual recruitment varies among populations from complete sexual recruitment to almost (> 90%) monoclonal populations. If phenotypic traits have substantial inherited variation, low levels of sexual activity will decrease population variation in these traits, which may affect function and resilience of the species. We assessed the level of inherited variation in nine phenotypic traits by comparing variation within and among three monoclonal groups and one group of unique multilocus genotypes (MLGs) sampled in the wild.
Of the nine phenotypic traits, recovery after freezing, recovery after desiccation, and phlorotannin content showed substantial inherited variation, that is, phenotypic variation in these traits were to a large extend genetically determined. In contrast, variation in six other phenotypic traits (growth rate, palatability to isopod grazers, thallus width, distance between dichotomies, water content after desiccation and photochemical yield under ambient conditions) did not show significant signals of genetic variation at the power of analyses used in the study. Averaged over all nine traits, phenotypic variation within monoclonal groups was only 68% of the variation within the group of different MLGs showing that genotype diversity does affect the overall level of phenotypic variation in this species.
Our result indicates that, in general, phenotypic diversity in populations of Fucus radicans increases with increased multilocus genotype (MLG) diversity, but effects are specific for individual traits. In the light of Fucus radicans being a foundation species of the northern Baltic Sea, we propose that increased MLG diversity (leading to increased trait variation) will promote ecosystem function and resilience in areas where F. radicans is common, but this suggestion needs experimental support.
Keywords: Phenotypic traits, Inherited variation, Foundation species, Ecosystem function