Genetic discontinuity among regional populations of Lophelia pertusa in the North Atlantic Ocean
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Knowledge of the degree to which populations are connected through larval dispersal is imperative to effective management, yet little is known about larval dispersal ability or population connectivity in Lophelia pertusa, the dominant framework-forming coral on the continental slope in the North Atlantic Ocean. Using nine microsatellite DNA markers, we assessed the spatial scale and pattern of genetic connectivity across a large portion of the range of L. pertusa in the North Atlantic Ocean. A Bayesian modeling approach found four distinct genetic groupings corresponding to ocean regions: Gulf of Mexico, coastal southeastern U.S., New England Seamounts, and eastern North Atlantic Ocean. An isolation-by-distance pattern was supported across the study area. Estimates of pairwise population differentiation were greatest with the deepest populations, the New England Seamounts (average FST = 0.156). Differentiation was intermediate with the eastern North Atlantic populations (FST = 0.085), and smallest between southeastern U.S. and Gulf of Mexico populations (FST = 0.019), with evidence of admixture off the southeastern Florida peninsula. Connectivity across larger geographic distances within regions suggests that some larvae are broadly dispersed. Heterozygote deficiencies were detected within the majority of localities suggesting deviation from random mating. Gene flow between ocean regions appears restricted, thus, the most effective management scheme for L. pertusa involves regional reserve networks.