Geographical distance and local environmental conditions drive the genetic population structure of a freshwater microalga (Bathycoccaceae; Chlorophyta) in Patagonian lakes

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The patterns and mechanisms underlying the genetic structure of microbial populations remain unresolved. Herein we investigated the role played by two non-mutually exclusive models (i.e. isolation by distance and isolation by environment) in shaping the genetic structure of lacustrine populations of a microalga (a freshwater Bathycoccaceae) in the Argentinean Patagonia. To our knowledge, this was the first study to investigate the genetic population structure in a South American microorganism. Population-level analyses based on ITS1-5.8S-ITS2 sequences revealed high levels of nucleotide and haplotype diversity within and among populations. Fixation index and a spatially explicit Bayesian analysis confirmed the occurrence of genetically distinct microalga populations in Patagonia. Isolation by distance and isolation by environment accounted for 38.5% and 17.7% of the genetic structure observed, respectively, whereas together these models accounted for 41% of the genetic differentiation. While our results highlighted isolation by distance and isolation by environment as important mechanisms in driving the genetic population structure of the microalga studied, none of these models (either alone or together) could explain the entire genetic differentiation observed. The unexplained variation in the genetic differentiation observed could be the result of founder events combined with rapid local adaptations, as proposed by the monopolisation hypothesis.

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