Introduction of Asian strains and low genetic variation in farmed seaweeds: indications for new management practices.
Seaweed farming has a crucial role in the development of future sustainable mariculture. In the same time, spreading of introduced species or genotypes from farms may threaten local ecosystems. We analyzed a molecular marker (mitochondrial cox2-3 spacers) from cultivated and wild specimen of the widely farmed seaweeds Eucheuma and Kappaphycus, collected in Zanzibar on the African east coast where commercial farming was introduced in 1989. Genotypes of presumed Asian origin were found growing on coral reefs and drifting in seagrass meadows, indicating that genotypes introduced for farming have established successfully in the wild in Zanzibar. Only a very low number of genotypes, all of Asian origin, were found in the farms. This indicates a low accessible gene pool, which can limit the capacity for adaptation to changed conditions and disease resistance in the farming system. African genotypes were found in a few sites, showing the potential for future farming of native strains. The ecological effects of the Asian genotypes introduced to coral reefs should also be further investigated in order to evaluate the risk connected with further introductions of new foreign strains.