A seascape genetic analysis of a stress-tolerant coral species along the Western Australian coast
Genetic diversity and connectivity are key factors in determining a population’s resilience to future disturbance. This is especially relevant to corals, which are in global decline due to increasing frequency and strength of thermal anomalies and severe tropical cyclones. While many studies have investigated genetic diversity and population structure in corals, they focused on species being removed at the greatest rate from coral reefs, acroporids and pocilloporids, and it is unclear whether the patterns observed in these species reflects those found in more resilient species. Here, we use microsatellite markers and two Lagrangian models with differing resolutions, to investigate population structure in a stress-tolerant coral survivor Cyphastrea microphthalma, Family Merulinidae, along the north-western Australian coastline. We found evidence of four genetic clusters with some level of admixture among them. However, while there was evidence of population structure within the intensively sampled Pilbara region, the patterns of connectivity differed to those reported previously. WA populations of C. microphthalma were also characterised by lower levels of genetic diversity at higher latitudes. High- and moderate-resolution Lagrangian models did not significantly predict regional-scale genetic connectivity across the Pilbara and Ningaloo (500 km). Although the high-resolution model explained an order of magnitude more genetic variation, suggesting model resolution and resolving coastal processes are important. Over broad spatial scales (nearly 2000 km), all moderate-resolution model particle release durations significantly predicted the genetic differentiation, although over-water distance best-predicted the genetic distance across this spatial scale. This study improves the understanding of connectivity in this region by focusing on a stress-tolerant species incorporating a spatially more intensive sampling effort than previous coral studies. It also shows that further development of Lagrangian models is required, such as inclusion of multi-generational stepwise models and larval behaviour, to improve predictions of connectivity for this coral species in this region.
KeywordsCyphastrea microphthalma Seascape genetics Lagrangian models Western Australia Coral bleaching
We would like to thank Jonathan Kool for his assistance with the moderate-resolution model. Also Luke Thomas, Rachel Marshall, DBCA Exmouth and Shark Bay district staff, Shark Bay Department of Fisheries, and the crew of Keshi Mer for field assistance. We would also like to thank Rachel Binks and Zoe Richards for helpful comments. The helpful comments of three referees have led to an improved manuscript. This research was funded by the Chevron-operated Wheatstone Project and the Woodside-operated Pluto Project for the State Environmental Offsets Program administered by DBCA. The Wheatstone Project is a joint venture between Australian subsidiaries of Chevron, Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Company (KUFPEC), Woodside Petroleum Limited and Kyushu Electric Power Company, together with PE Wheatstone Pty Ltd. (part owned by TEPCO). Kimberley samples were collected by MT as part of the Lalang-garram Camden Sound Marine Park Project funded by the WA State Government Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy. For cultural advice, permissions and field assistance, we thank the Dambimangari people, particularly Francis Woolagoodja and Peter McCumstie.
Compliance with ethical standards
All samples were collected under Western Australian Department of Fisheries Exemption No. 2491, and Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions Fauna Collection Permit No. SC001362.
Conflict of interest
On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.
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