Genotype–Environment mismatch of kelp forests under climate change

Sofie Vranken, Thomas Wernberg, Armin Scheben, Anita Alice Severn-Ellis, Jacqueline Batley, Philipp Emanuel Bayer, David Edwards, David Wheeler, Melinda Ann Coleman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Climate change is increasingly impacting ecosystems globally. Understanding adaptive genetic diversity and whether it will keep pace with projected climatic change is necessary to assess species’ vulnerability and design efficient mitigation strategies such as assisted adaptation. Kelp forests are the foundations of temperate reefs globally but are declining in many regions due to climate stress. A lack of knowledge of kelp's adaptive genetic diversity hinders assessment of vulnerability under extant and future climates. Using 4245 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), we characterized patterns of neutral and putative adaptive genetic diversity for the dominant kelp in the southern hemisphere (Ecklonia radiata) from ~1000 km of coastline off Western Australia. Strong population structure and isolation-by-distance was underpinned by significant signatures of selection related to temperature and light. Gradient forest analysis of temperature-linked SNPs under selection revealed a strong association with mean annual temperature range, suggesting adaptation to local thermal environments. Critically, modelling revealed that predicted climate-mediated temperature changes will probably result in high genomic vulnerability via a mismatch between current and future predicted genotype–environment relationships such that kelp forests off Western Australia will need to significantly adapt to keep pace with projected climate change. Proactive management techniques such as assisted adaptation to boost resilience may be required to secure the future of these kelp forests and the immense ecological and economic values they support.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3730-3746
Number of pages17
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number15
Early online date21 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


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