Coral Reefs

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 493-502

First online:

Genetic structure of a reef-building coral from thermally distinct environments on the Great Barrier Reef

  • Carolyn Smith-KeuneAffiliated withAustralian Institute of Marine ScienceCentre for Marine Studies, University of Queensland Email author 
  • , Madeleine van OppenAffiliated withAustralian Institute of Marine Science

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Adaptation to localised thermal regimes is facilitated by restricted gene flow, ultimately leading to genetic divergence among populations and differences in their physiological tolerances. Allozyme analysis of six polymorphic loci was used to assess genetic differentiation between nine populations of the reef-building coral Acropora millepora over a latitudinal temperature gradient on the inshore regions of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Small but significant genetic differentiation indicative of moderate levels of gene flow (pairwise F ST 0.023 to 0.077) was found between southern populations of A. millepora in cooler regions of the GBR and the warmer, central or northern GBR populations. Patterns of genetic differentiation at these putatively neutral allozyme loci broadly matched experimental variation in thermal tolerance and were consistent with local thermal regimes (warmest monthly-averages) for the A. millepora populations examined. It is therefore hypothesized that natural selection has influenced the thermal tolerance of the A. millepora populations examined and greater genetic divergence is likely to be revealed by examination of genetic markers under the direct effects of natural selection.


Genetic structure Coral bleaching Thermal tolerance Great Barrier Reef