The gray mangrove, Avicennia marina, is a pan-tropical species that has a distribution extending from New Zealand and Japan in the Pacific, to South Africa and the Arabian Gulf in the western Indian Ocean. As an important ecosystem engineer that provides habitat for many other species, protects coastlines from erosion and storm surges, and acts as a blue carbon sink, there is growing research across the globe on how this species might cope with future climate change.
A research group led by the New York University Abu Dhabi’s (NYUAD) Center for Genomics and Systems Biology (CGSB) have published a high-resolution genome for the gray mangrove (Avicennia marina), providing an important resource for scientists around the world studying this species, in the journal G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics. The article is open access.
The group included researchers working in the Arabian Gulf (NYUAD), Sea of Oman (Sultan Qaboos University) and the Red Sea (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology), allowing the authors to identify a set of candidate genes potentially involved in local adaptation to the extreme environmental conditions around the Arabian Peninsula, and to reveal patterns of adaptive variability correlating with a temperature gradient across Arabian mangrove populations.
Associate Professor of Biology at NYUAD and project lead John Burt said: “The gray mangrove is the most widely distributed mangrove species in the world, and it is the only natural evergreen forest across the Arabian Peninsula. This is the first highly detailed reconstruction of the genome for this mangrove, a species that is incredibly important both regionally in Arabia and across the Indo-Pacific.”
The goal of the research was to develop a high-resolution resource for use by global scientists trying to understand the biology of this widely occurring tropical species.
“Our new assembly provides an excellent reference for evolution and genetic connectivity studies focused on A. marina and related species,” said NYUAD research group member Guillermo Friis-Montoya. “An annotation of unprecedented quality is also provided, enabling the identification of candidate genes involved in evolutionary processes like local adaptation and speciation. Overall, the data reported are a valuable resource for the study of mangrove biology, a highly relevant species both ecologically and socioeconomically.”
Burt and Friis-Montoya continue to study mangrove populations in the environmentally extreme southern Arabian Gulf, and are nearing completion of a two-year study of the environmental biology of this species. “The UAE actually represents a uniquely challenging environment, with extremely hot summers, very cold winters, and very saline seawater that is challenging for mangroves,” said Burt, “by combining our genomic analyses with monitoring of the molecular and biochemical responses of Abu Dhabi’s mangroves over time, we will show how our local mangroves have been able to cope and even thrive in conditions that are found nowhere else in the world. Such insights are of growing importance in this era of rapid climate change.”
John A. Burt
Associate Professor of Biology, Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, New York University Abu Dhabi
John Burt is an Associate Professor of Biology and Head of the Marine Biology Laboratory at New York University Abu Dhabi. His research focuses on organismal responses to extreme environmental conditions.