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PLoS One. 2013 May 23;8(5):e64667. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0064667. Print 2013.

Connectivity of the habitat-forming kelp, Ecklonia radiata within and among estuaries and open coast.

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Centre for Marine BioInnovation, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.


With marine protected areas being established worldwide there is a pressing need to understand how the physical setting in which these areas are placed influences patterns of dispersal and connectivity of important marine organisms. This is particularly critical for dynamic and complex nearshore marine environments where patterns of genetic structure of organisms are often chaotic and uncoupled from broad scale physical processes. This study determines the influence of habitat heterogeneity (presence of estuaries) on patterns of genetic structure and connectivity of the common kelp, Ecklonia radiata. There was no genetic differentiation of kelp between estuaries and the open coast and the presence of estuaries did not increase genetic differentiation among open coast populations. Similarly, there were no differences in level of inbreeding or genetic diversity between estuarine and open coast populations. The presence of large estuaries along rocky coastlines does not appear to influence genetic structure of this kelp and factors other than physical heterogeneity of habitat are likely more important determinants of regional connectivity. Marine reserves are currently lacking in this bioregion and may be designated in the future. Knowledge of the factors that influence important habitat forming organisms such as kelp contribute to informed and effective marine protected area design and conservation initiatives to maintain resilience of important marine habitats.

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