Intraspecific genetic diversity and coexistence in phytoplankton populations

Fredrik Ryderheim*, Thomas Kiørboe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The past two decades have seen a drastic increase in the availability and use of genetic techniques to study phytoplankton communities. As a result, it is now well documented that phytoplankton populations are genetically diverse, despite predominantly asexual reproduction and minute morphological variation. Genetic variation can lead to variation also in phenotype, and some traits vary more among genotypes than between species. Trait‐based approaches tackle this by focusing on traits rather than on species. However, trait‐based models often have difficulty predicting and explaining the huge trait‐diversity among coexisting individuals competing for the same few resources. Thus, we ask the question: How do hundreds, if not thousands, of genotypes coexist in a highly competitive environment? In this review, we gather information on genetic and phenotypic variations in coexisting genotypes and elaborate on three mechanisms by which broad intraspecific genetic diversity may be possible: neutral mutations, environmental fluctuations, and trade‐offs among traits. These have all been applied on an interspecies level, and we discuss their use also among coexisting genotypes. We find that genetic diversity to be almost exclusively studied in blooming species and that clonal diversity frequently measure above 0.95 (i.e., 95% of individuals sampled are genetically different). Genetic diversity seems stable throughout blooms, suggesting that competitive exclusion is low or that new genetic material is frequently being introduced into populations. Further, we find high intraspecific trait‐variation in several key traits among coexisting strains but also that trait‐variation is often neglected in studies on phytoplankton, making coexistence difficult to predict.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLimnology and Oceanography
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1450-1463
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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