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Keywords:

  • alga;
  • clonality;
  • dispersal;
  • isomorphic diplohaplontic life history;
  • microsatellites;
  • population genetic structure

Abstract

Local populations of Cladophoropsis membranacea exist as mats of coalesced thalli composed of free-living haploid and diploid plants including clonally reproduced plants of either phase. None of the phases are morphologically distinguishable. We used eight microsatellite loci to explore clonality and fine-scale patch structure in C. membranacea at six sites on the Canary Islands. Mats were always composites of many individuals; not single, large clones. Haploids outnumbered diploids at all sites (from 2:1 to 10:1). In both haploid and diploid plants, genetic diversity was high and there was no significant difference in allele frequencies. Significant heterozygote deficiencies were found in the diploid plants at five out of six sites and linkage disequilibrium was associated with the haploid phase at all sites. Short dispersal distances of gametes/spores and small effective population sizes associated with clonality probably contribute to inbreeding. Spatial autocorrelation analysis revealed that most clones were found within a radius of ≈ 60 cm and rarely further than 5 m. Dominance of the haploid phase may reflect seasonal shifts in the relative frequencies of haploids and diploids, but may alternatively reflect superiority of locally adapted and competitively dominant, haploid clones; a strategy that is theoretically favoured in disturbed environments. Although sexual reproduction may be infrequent in C. membranacea, it is sufficient to maintain both life history phases and supports theoretical modelling studies that show that haploid–diploid life histories are an evolutionarily stable strategy.