Coral Reefs

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 493–502 | Cite as

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



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 



We thank Dr. C. van Oosterhout for advice on calculation of null allele frequencies. We thank Dr. T. Done and Mary Wakeford from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and Dr. Sophie Dove from the University of Queensland, Dr. Dean Jerry from James Cook University, Dr. Howard Lasker and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the manuscript. We thank Dr. Ray Berkelmans for his assistance in the laboratory and his help with field collections. This research was supported by an Australian Institute of Marine Science supplementary research award to C. Smith-Keune.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Australian Institute of Marine ScienceTownsville MCAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Marine StudiesUniversity of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia

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