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Keywords:

  • gene flow;
  • nested clade analysis;
  • phylogeography;
  • Plesiastrea versipora;
  • population genetic structure;
  • scleractinian coral

Abstract

Whereas terrestrial animal populations might show genetic connectivity within a continent, marine species, such as hermatypic corals, may have connectivity stretching to all corners of the planet. We quantified the genetic variability within and among populations of the widespread scleractinian coral, Plesiastrea versipora along the eastern Australian seaboard (4145 km) and the Ryukyu Archipelago (Japan, 681 km) using sequences of internal transcribed spacers (ITS1-2) from ribosomal DNA. Geographic patterns in genetic variability were deduced from a nested clade analysis (NCA) performed on a parsimony network haplotype. This analysis allowed the establishment of geographical associations in the distribution of haplotypes within the network cladogram, therefore allowing us to deduce phylogeographical patterns based under models of restricted gene flow, fragmentation and range expansion. No significant structure was found among Ryukyu Archipelago populations. The lack of an association between the positions of haplotypes in the cladogram with geographical location of these populations may be accounted for by a high level of gene flow of P. versipora within this region, probably due to the strong Kuroshio Current. In contrast, strong geographical associations were apparent among populations of P. versipora along the south-east coast of Australia. This pattern of restricted genetic connectivity among populations of P. versipora on the eastern seaboard of Australia seems to be associated with the present surface ocean current (the East Australian Current) on this side of the south-western Pacific Ocean.