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Keywords:

  • Allelic richness;
  • conservation;
  • heterozygosity;
  • hybridization;
  • microsatellite;
  • population genetics;
  • small population;
  • threatened species

Abstract

Among various potential consequences of rarity is genetic erosion. Neutral genetic theory predicts that rare species will have lower genetic diversity than common species. To examine the association between genetic diversity and rarity, variation at eight DNA microsatellite markers was documented for 14 Acropora species that display different patterns of distribution and abundance in the Indo–Pacific Ocean. Our results show that the relationship between rarity and genetic diversity is not a positive linear association because, contrary to expectations, some rare species are genetically diverse and some populations of common species are genetically depleted. Our data suggest that inbreeding is the most likely mechanism of genetic depletion in both rare and common corals, and that hybridization is the most likely explanation for higher than expected levels of genetic diversity in rare species. A significant hypothesis generated from our study with direct conservation implications is that as a group, Acropora corals have lower genetic diversity at neutral microsatellite loci than may be expected from their taxonomic diversity, and this may suggest a heightened susceptibility to environmental change. This hypothesis requires validation based on genetic diversity estimates derived from a large portion of the genome.