Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Biological Sciences


Biological Sciences


Jenn Yost


Seagrass populations are in decline worldwide. Zostera marina (eelgrass), one of California’s native seagrasses, is no exception to this trend. In the last 8 years, Morro Bay, California has lost 95% of its eelgrass. Eelgrass is an ecosystem engineer, providing important ecosystem services such as sediment stabilization, nutrient cycling, and nursery habitats for fish. The failure of recent restoration efforts necessitates a better understanding of the causes of eelgrass decline in this estuary. Previous research on eelgrass in California has demonstrated a link between population genetic diversity and eelgrass bed health, ecosystem functioning, and resilience to disturbance and extreme climatic events. The genetic diversity and population structure of Morro Bay eelgrass populations has not been assessed until this study. Additionally, we compare Morro Bay eelgrass to Bodega Bay eelgrass in northern California. We conducted fragment length analysis of 9 microsatellite loci on 133 Morro Bay samples, and 20 Bodega Bay samples. We found no population differentiation within the bay, and no difference among samples growing at different tidal depths. Comparison with Bodega Bay in northern California revealed that Morro Bay eelgrass contains three first generation migrants from a northern eelgrass population, but remains considerably genetically differentiated. Despite the precipitous loss of eelgrass in Morro Bay between 2007 and 2017, genetic diversity remains comparable to other populations on the west coast.