Plastic changes in the growth and productivity of algae in response to environment and stocking density are well established. In contrast, the capacity for such changes to persist once environmental differences cease, potentially signalling an evolutionary response, have rarely been tested for algae in intensive production systems. We tested whether continuous differences in harvesting regime (a high stocking density/low-yield regime versus low stocking density/high-yield regime) generated changes in biomass productivity and other growth metrics within several strains of the clonal macroalga Oedogonium (Chlorophyta, Oedogoniales) and whether such changes persisted once differential harvesting yields ceased. We found considerable plasticity in growth rate and biomass productivity over a 12-week period of active selection (i.e. repeated high-yield and low-yield harvesting of clonal lineages within strains) and that strains responded differently to this selection pressure over time. While small, but significant, differences in growth rates of clonal lineages exposed to high-yield vs low-yield harvesting regimes were maintained after prolonged culture under a common selection regime (i.e. medium-yield harvesting), differences in biomass productivity were not. There was no evidence for positive or negative effects of maintaining multiple strains in polyculture on growth and biomass productivity. Overall, we detected limited potential for evolutionary responses to harvesting regime in the main commercial trait of interest—biomass productivity. This outcome is important for commercial cultivation in intensive production systems, since it identifies a low risk that harvesting practices will impact negatively on biomass productivity in the longer term.
Journal of Applied Phycology / Vol. Article in press