In modern society, incidents concerning Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) are reported with an alarming frequency and there has been an apparent increase in HABs throughout the world over the last decades. Among the multiple poisoning syndromes linked to HABs, Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) is the most widespread and significant on a global basis. Dinoflagellates within the genus Alexandrium are responsible for many of the PSP outbreaks in Europe. The geographic expansion of toxin-producing species, and in particular of species with the capability to form cysts, is believed to be aided by human activities such as the use of ballast water or the movement of shellfish stock from one area to another.
The objective of the proposed study is to investigate a significant constraint to colonization of a new area by an introduced organism - namely reproductive barriers within a species, and in particular, between European toxic and non-toxic strains of the dinoflagellate Alexandrium minutum. The hypothesis is that mating between toxic and non-toxic populations results in cysts with a low viability. In addition, I aim to identify a genetic marker capable of distinguishing between toxic and non-toxic A. minutum. The ecological relevance of the proposed study is significant as mating barriers have the potential to affect biogeography of the investigated species as well as formation, persistence and the potential suppression of toxic blooms.
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