From seascape ecology to population genomics and back. Spatial and ecological differentiation among cryptic species of the red algae Lithophyllum stictiforme/L. cabiochiae, main bioconstructors of coralligenous habitats.
Ecosystem engineering species alter the physical structure of their environment and can create or modify habitats, having a massive impact on local biodiversity. Coralligenous reefs are highly diverse habitats endemic to the Mediterranean Sea built by calcareous benthic organisms among which Crustose Coralline Algae are the main engineering species. We analyzed the diversity of Lithophyllum stictiforme or L. cabiochiae in coralligenous habitats combining a multiple barcode and a population genomics approach with seascape features. Population genomics allowed disentangling pure spatial effects from environmental effects. We found that these taxa form a complex of eight highly divergent cryptic species that are easily identifiable using classic barcode markers (psbA, LSU, COI). Three factors have a significant effect on the relative abundances of these cryptic species: the location along the French Mediterranean coast, depth and Photosynthetic Active Radiation (PAR). The analysis of around 5000 SNPs for the most abundant species revealed genetic differentiation among localities in the Bay of Marseille but no differentiation between depths within locality. Thus, the effect of depth and PAR on cryptic species communities is not a consequence of restricted connectivity but rather due to differential settlement or survival among cryptic species. This differential is more likely driven by irradiance levels rather than by pressure or temperature. Both the genetic and species diversity patterns are congruent with the main patterns of currents in the Bay. Ecological differentiation among these engineering cryptic species, sensitive to ocean warming and acidification, could have important consequences on the diversity and structure of the coralligenous communities.