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Proc Biol Sci. 2005 May 22;272(1567):1067-74.

Low genetic diversity in a marine nature reserve: re-evaluating diversity criteria in reserve design.

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School of Animal and Microbial Sciences, University of Reading, Whiteknights, PO Box 228, Reading RG6 6AJ, UK.


Little consideration has been given to the genetic composition of populations associated with marine reserves, as reserve designation is generally to protect specific species, communities or habitats. Nevertheless, it is important to conserve genetic diversity since it provides the raw material for the maintenance of species diversity over longer, evolutionary time-scales and may also confer the basis for adaptation to environmental change. Many current marine reserves are small in size and isolated to some degree (e.g. sea loughs and offshore islands). While such features enable easier management, they may have important implications for the genetic structure of protected populations, the ability of populations to recover from local catastrophes and the potential for marine reserves to act as sources of propagules for surrounding areas. Here, we present a case study demonstrating genetic differentiation, isolation, inbreeding and reduced genetic diversity in populations of the dogwhelk Nucella lapillus in Lough Hyne Marine Nature Reserve (an isolated sea lough in southern Ireland), compared with populations on the local adjacent open coast and populations in England, Wales and France. Our study demonstrates that this sea lough is isolated from open coast populations, and highlights that there may be long-term genetic consequences of selecting reserves on the basis of isolation and ease of protection.

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