• Biphasic life cycle;
  • demography;
  • geographical variability;
  • haploid–diploid;
  • ploidy ratio;
  • population dynamics;
  • spatial variability

The relative abundance of haploid and diploid individuals (H:D) in isomorphic marine algal biphasic cycles varies spatially, but only if vital rates of haploid and diploid phases vary differently with environmental conditions (i.e. conditional differentiation between phases). Vital rates of isomorphic phases in particular environments may be determined by subtle morphological or physiological differences. Herein, we test numerically how geographic variability in H:D is regulated by conditional differentiation between isomorphic life phases and the type of life strategy of populations (i.e. life cycles dominated by reproduction, survival or growth). Simulation conditions were selected using available data on H:D spatial variability in seaweeds. Conditional differentiation between ploidy phases had a small effect on the H:D variability for species with life strategies that invest either in fertility or in growth. Conversely, species with life strategies that invest mainly in survival, exhibited high variability in H:D through a conditional differentiation in stasis (the probability of staying in the same size class), breakage (the probability of changing to a smaller size class) or growth (the probability of changing to a bigger size class). These results were consistent with observed geographic variability in H:D of natural marine algae populations.