Rarity and genetic diversity in Indo–Pacific Acropora corals


  • Zoe T. Richards,

    Corresponding author
    1. Formerly Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Townsville, Queensland, Australia
    • Australian Museum, College Street, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
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  • Madeleine. J. H. van Oppen

    1. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville MC, Queensland, Australia
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  • Funding Information This research was funded via a Ph.D. scholarship, Smart State PhD Funding, and ISRS Fellowship at James Cook University (Z. R.) and Chadwick Biodiversity Fellowship at the Australian Museum (Z. R.).


Zoe T. Richards, Australian Museum, College Street, Sydney, New South Wales, 2010, Australia. Tel: +(61) 2 9329 6258; Fax: +(61) 2 9320 6015; E-mail: zoe.richards@austmus.gov.au


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.