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Clonal structure and variable fertilization success in Florida Keys broadcast-spawning corals

Abstract

Keystone reef-building corals in the Caribbean are predominantly self-incompatible broadcast spawners and a majority are threatened due to both acute adult mortality and poor recruitment. As population densities decline, concerns about fertilization limitation and effective population size in these species increase and would be further exacerbated by either high clonality or gametic incompatibility of parental genotypes. This study begins to address these concerns for two Caribbean broadcasting species by characterizing clonal structure and quantifying experimental pairwise fertilization success. Orbicella faveolata showed surprisingly high and contrasting levels of clonality between two sampled sites; Acropora palmata was previously known to be highly clonal. Individual pairwise crosses of synchronously spawning genotypes of each species were conducted by combining aliquots of gamete bundles immediately after spawning, and showed high and significant variability in fertilization success. Over half of the individual crosses of O. faveolata and about one-third of A. palmata crosses yielded ≤ 40% fertilization. Total sperm concentration was quantified in only a subset of O. faveolata crosses (range of 1–6 × 107 mL−1), but showed no correlation with fertilization success. We interpret that both parental incompatibility and individual genotypes with low-quality gametes are likely to have contributed to the variable fertilization observed with important implications for conservation. Differential fertilization success implies effective population size may be considerably smaller than hoped and population enhancement efforts need to incorporate many more parental genotypes at the patch scale to ensure successful larval production than indicated by estimates based simply on preserving levels of standing genetic diversity.

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Acknowledgements

This project was made possible by funding from the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, logistic support from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and field and laboratory assistance from A. Chan, M. Devlin-Durante, B. Huntington, L. Richter, K. Kerr, L. MacLaughlin, M. Connelly, J. Fisch, C. Page, and A. Burnett. Work was conducted under permit FKNMS-2014-047.

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Correspondence to M. W. Miller.

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Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Line K. Bay

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Miller, M.W., Baums, I.B., Pausch, R.E. et al. Clonal structure and variable fertilization success in Florida Keys broadcast-spawning corals. Coral Reefs 37, 239–249 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-017-1651-0

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Keywords

  • Genotype
  • Acropora palmata
  • Orbicella faveolata
  • Larval production
  • Microsatellites