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Keywords:

  • coccolithophores;
  • Emiliania huxleyi;
  • genetic diversity;
  • microsatellites;
  • phytoplankton

Using primer pairs for seven previously described microsatellite loci and three newly characterized microsatellite loci from the coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi (Lohm.) Hay and Mohler, we assessed genetic variation within this species. Analysis of microsatellite length variants (alleles) was conducted for 85 E. huxleyi isolates representative of different ocean basins. These results revealed high intraspecific genetic variability within the E. huxleyi species concept. Pairwise comparison of a 1992 Coastal Fjord group (FJ92) (n=41) and a North East Atlantic (NEA) group (n=21), using FST as an indicator of genetic differentiation, revealed moderate genetic differentiation (FST=0.09894; P=0; significance level=0.05). Gene flow between the FJ92 and NEA groups was estimated to be low, which is in agreement with the moderate levels of genetic differentiation revealed by the microsatellite data. A genetic assignment method that uses genotype likelihoods to draw inference about the groups to which individuals belong was tested. Using FJ92 and NEA as reference groups, we observed that all the E. huxleyi groups tested against the two reference groups were unrelated to them. On a global biogeographical scale, E. huxleyi populations appear to be highly genetically diverse. Our findings raise the question of whether such a high degree of intraspecific genetic diversity in coccolithophores translates into variability in ecological function.