Research Article

Marine Biology

, Volume 150, Issue 1, pp 57-68

First online:

Contrasting population genetic structures of sympatric, mass-spawning Caribbean corals

  • Emily G. SeveranceAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, SCA 110, University of South FloridaStanley Division, Johns Hopkins University
  • , Stephen A. KarlAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, SCA 110, University of South FloridaThe Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawai’i, Manoa Email author 

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Coral reef conservation management policy often focuses on larval retention and recruitment of marine fish with scant data available on important, less motile reef-building species such as corals. To evaluate the concept of population connectivity in corals, we tested whether broadcast spawning reproduction per se confers the same degree of dispersal to two sister species, Montastraea annularis (Anthozoa: Scleractinia; Ellis and Solander 1786) and M. faveolata (Ellis and Solander 1786), both dominant taxa in reefs of the northern Caribbean. Genetic analyses of ten nuclear DNA loci (seven microsatellite and three single-copy RFLP) reveal strikingly different patterns of population genetic subdivision for these closely related, sympatric species, in spite of likely identical dispersal abilities. Strong population genetic structure typified the architecture of M. annularis, whereas M. faveolata populations were principally genetically well mixed. A higher level of clonality was observed in M. annularis potentially because of a susceptibility to physical fragmentation. Clonality did not, however, significantly contribute to population genetic structure or low-level Hardy–Weinberg and linkage disequilibria observed in some populations. The lack of consistent association between reproductive mode and dispersal reinforces the perspective that population connectivity is not so much a function of predictable marine population source and sink relationships as is due to a more complex interface of oceanic currents interacting with and amplifying stochastic fluctuations in larval supply and settlement success. Our results support others promoting an overall ecosystem approach in marine protected area design.