Mixed asexual and sexual reproduction in the Indo-Pacific reef coral Pocillopora damicornis



David J. Combosch, Marine Science Center, Northeastern University, Nahant, MA 01908. Tel.: +1-781-581-7370; Fax: +1-781-581-6076; E-mail: dcombosch@gmail.com


Pocillopora damicornis is one of the best studied reef-building corals, yet it's somewhat unique reproductive strategy remains poorly understood. Genetic studies indicate that P. damicornis larvae are produced almost exclusively parthenogenetically, and yet population genetic surveys suggest frequent sexual reproduction. Using microsatellite data from over 580 larvae from 13 colonies, we demonstrate that P. damicornis displays a mixed reproductive strategy where sexual and asexual larvae are produced simultaneously within the same colony. The majority of larvae were parthenogenetic (94%), but most colonies (10 of the 13) produced a subset of their larvae sexually. Logistic regression indicates that the proportion of sexual larvae varied significantly with colony size, cycle day, and calendar day. In particular, the decrease in sexual larvae with colony size suggests that the mixed reproductive strategy changes across the life of the coral. This unique shift in reproductive strategy leads to increasingly asexual replications of successful genotypes, which (in contrast to exclusive parthenogens) have already contributed to the recombinant gene pool.