Marine Biology

, Volume 121, Issue 4, pp 731-739

First online:

Variation in the genetic composition of coral (Pocillopora damicornis and Acropora palifera) populations from different reef habitats

  • J. A. H. BenzieAffiliated withAustralian Institute of Marine Science
  • , A. HaskellAffiliated withSouthampton College, Long Island University
  • , H. LehmanAffiliated withSouthampton College, Long Island University

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The genetic structure of populations of the corals Pocillopora damicornis and Acropora palifera was examined in three habitats at One Tree Island during March and April 1993, using electrophoretically detectable variation at six allozyme loci. There were significant genetic differences among populations of P. damicornis within each of the reef crest, lagoon and microatoll habitats. The level of differentiation among populations was similar in each of the habitats. Differences between populations of P. damicornis from lagoon and microatolls were no greater than that within habitats, but genetic differentiation of these from crest populations was much higher. There was no difference in the genetic composition of A. palifera populations within or between the lagoon and microatolls, the only habitats where this species was found. Both coral species had observed:expected (G O:GE) genotypic diversity rations >0.80, indicating predominantly sexual reproduction. These data, the high genotype diversity and general conformance of genotype frequencies to those expected under conditions of Hardy-Weinberg, suggested panmixis at each site. The high degree of sexual reproduction in the P. damicornis populations is unusual for a species where asexual reproduction has been the dominant mode of reproduction reported to date. Gene flow in both species was considerable between the lagoon and the closed microatolls. The genetic differences between populations of P. damicornis in these habitats and the reef crest may reflect the relative isolation of all populations within the closed One Tree Lagoon from those outside. However, local currents appear to offer effective means of dispersal between the habitats, suggesting that the genetic differences result from natural selection in the different environments within One Tree Lagoon and the reef crest.