Climate change threatens unique evolutionary diversity in Australian kelp refugia

Matt J. Nimbs, Thomas Wernberg, Tom R. Davis, Curtis Champion, Melinda A. Coleman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Climate change has driven contemporary decline and loss of kelp forests globally with an accompanying loss of their ecological and economic values. Kelp populations at equatorward-range edges are particularly vulnerable to climate change as these locations are undergoing warming at or beyond thermal tolerance thresholds. Concerningly, these range-edge populations may contain unique adaptive or evolutionary genetic diversity that is vulnerable to warming. We explore haplotype diversity by generating a Templeton–Crandall–Sing (TCS) network analysis of 119 Cytochrome C Oxidase (COI) sequences among four major population groupings for extant and putatively extinct populations only known from herbarium specimens of the dominant Laminarian kelp Ecklonia radiata in the south-western Pacific, a region warming at 2–4 times the global average. Six haplotypes occurred across the region with one being widespread across most populations. Three unique haplotypes were found in a deep-water range-edge population off Moreton Island, Queensland, which likely represents both a contemporary and historic refuge during periods of climatic change. Hindcasting E. radiata cover estimates using extant data, we reveal that this region likely supported the highest kelp cover in eastern Australia during the last glacial maximum. The equatorward range edge, deep-water kelp populations off Moreton Island represent a genetically diverse evolutionary refuge that is currently threatened by warming and requires prompt ex-situ conservation measures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1248
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


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