Genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism markers reveal population structure and dispersal direction of an expanding nuisance algal bloom species

Mol Ecol. 2021 Feb;30(4):912-925. doi: 10.1111/mec.15787. Epub 2021 Jan 20.


Species invasion and range expansion are currently under scrutiny due to increasing anthropogenic impact on the natural environment. This is also true for harmful algal blooms, which have been reported to have increased in frequency. However, this research is challenging due to the ephemeral nature, small size and mostly low concentrations of microalgae in the environment. One such species is the nuisance microalga Gonyostomum semen (Raphidophyceae), which has increased in occurrence in northern Europe in recent decades. The question of whether the species has expanded its habitat range or if it was already present in the lakes but was too rare to be detected remains unanswered. The aim of the present study was to determine the genetic structure and dispersal pathways of G. semen using RAD (restriction-site-associated DNA) tag sequencing. For G. semen, which has a huge genome (32 Gbp), we faced particular challenges, but were nevertheless able to recover over 1000 single nucleotide polymorphisms at high coverage. Our data revealed a distinct population genetic structure, demonstrating a divide of western and eastern populations that probably represent different lineages. Despite significant genetic differentiation among lakes, we found only limited isolation-by-distance. While we had expected a pattern of recent expansion northwards, the data demonstrated gene flow from the northeast/east towards the southwest/west. This genetic signature suggests that the observed gene flow may be due to dispersal by autumn migratory birds, which act as dispersal vectors of resistant resting propagules that form at the end of the G. semen blooms.

Keywords: Gonyostomum semen; RAD-seq; SNPs; algal blooms; invasive species; population structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Europe
  • Gene Flow
  • Harmful Algal Bloom
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide* / genetics
  • Stramenopiles*

Associated data

  • RefSeq/PRJNA659541