What's ploidy got to do with it? Understanding the evolutionary ecology of macroalgal invasions necessitates incorporating life cycle complexity.
Biological invasions represent grave threats to terrestrial, aquatic, and marine ecosystems, but our understanding of the role of evolution during invasions remains rudimentary. In marine environments, macroalgae account for a large percentage of invaders, but their complicated life cycles render it difficult to move methodologies and predictions wholesale from species with a single, free-living ploidy stage, such as plants or animals. In haplodiplontic macroalgae, meiosis and fertilization are spatiotemporally separated by long-lived, multicellular haploid and diploid stages, and gametes are produced by mitosis, not meiosis. As a consequence, there are unique eco-evolutionary constraints that are not typically considered in invasions. First, selfing can occur in both monoicious (i.e., hermaphroditic) and dioicious (i.e., separate sexes) haplodiplontic macroalgae. In the former, fertilization between gametes produced by the same haploid thallus results in instantaneous, genome-wide homozygosity. In the latter, cross-fertilization between separate male and female haploids that share the same diploid parent is analogous to selfing in plants or animals. Separate sexes, therefore, cannot be used as a proxy for outcrossing. Second, selfing likely facilitates invasions (i.e., Baker's law) and the long-lived haploid stage may enable purging of deleterious mutations, further contributing to invasion success. Third, asexual reproduction will result in the dominance of one ploidy and/or sex and the loss of the other(s). Whether or not sexual reproduction can be recovered depends on which stage is maintained. Finally, fourth, haplodiplontic life cycles are predicted to be maintained through niche differentiation in the haploid and diploid stages. Empirical tests are rare, but fundamental to our understanding of macroalgal invasion dynamics. By highlighting these four phenomena, we can build a framework with which to empirically and theoretically address important gaps in the literature on marine evolutionary ecology, of which biological invasions can serve as unnatural laboratories.