Limited evolutionary responses to harvesting regime in the intensive production of algae

Authors: Rebecca J Lawton, Nicholas A Paul, Dustin J Marshall and Keyne Monro

Published in: Journal of Applied Phycology, January 2017


Plastic changes in the growth and productivity of algae in response to environment and stocking density are well established. In contrast, the capacity for such changes to persist once environmental differences cease, potentially signalling an evolutionary response, have rarely been tested for algae in intensive production systems.

We tested whether continuous differences in harvesting regime (a high stocking density/low-yield regime versus low stocking density/high-yield regime) generated changes in biomass productivity and other growth metrics within several strains of the clonal macroalga Oedogonium (Chlorophyta, Oedogoniales) and whether such changes persisted once differential harvesting yields ceased.

We found considerable plasticity in growth rate and biomass productivity over a 12-week period of active selection (i.e. repeated high-yield and low-yield harvesting of clonal lineages within strains) and that strains responded differently to this selection pressure over time.

While small, but significant, differences in growth rates of clonal lineages exposed to high-yield vs low-yield harvesting regimes were maintained after prolonged culture under a common selection regime (i.e. medium-yield harvesting), differences in biomass productivity were not. There was no evidence for positive or negative effects of maintaining multiple strains in polyculture on growth and biomass productivity.

Overall, we detected limited potential for evolutionary responses to harvesting regime in the main commercial trait of interest — biomass productivity. This outcome is important for commercial cultivation in intensive production systems, since it identifies a low risk that harvesting practices will impact negatively on biomass productivity in the longer term.


Lawton RJ, Paul NA, Marshall DJ, Monro K (2017) Limited evolutionary responses to harvesting regime in the intensive production of algae. Journal of Applied Phycology PDF 1 MB doi:10.1007/s10811-016-1044-8

Environment-dependent variation in selection on life history across small spatial scales

Authors: Rolanda Lange, Keyne Monro and Dustin J Marshall

Published in: Evolution, volume 70, issue 10 (October 2016)


Variation in life-history traits is ubiquitous, even though genetic variation is thought to be depleted by selection.

One potential mechanism for the maintenance of trait variation is spatially variable selection.

We explored spatial variation in selection in the field for a colonial marine invertebrate that shows phenotypic differences across a depth gradient of only 3 m. Our analysis included life-history traits relating to module size, colony growth, and phenology.

Directional selection on colony growth varied in strength across depths, while module size was under directional selection at one depth but not the other. Differences in selection may explain some of the observed phenotypic differentiation among depths for one trait but not another: instead, selection should actually erode the differences observed for this trait.

Our results suggest selection is not acting alone to maintain trait variation within and across environments in this system.


Lange R, Monro K, Marshall DJ (2016) Environment-dependent variation in selection on life history across small spatial scales, Evolution 70(10): 2404–2410 PDF 497 KB doi:10.1111/evo.13033