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Keywords:

  • cold-water coral;
  • ITS sequencing;
  • Lophelia;
  • microsatellite;
  • northeast Atlantic;
  • population structure

Abstract

The azooxanthellate scleractinian coral Lophelia pertusa has a near-cosmopolitan distribution, with a main depth distribution between 200 and 1000 m. In the northeast Atlantic it is the main framework-building species, forming deep-sea reefs in the bathyal zone on the continental margin, offshore banks and in Scandinavian fjords. Recent studies have shown that deep-sea reefs are associated with a highly diverse fauna. Such deep-sea communities are subject to increasing impact from deep-water fisheries, against a background of poor knowledge concerning these ecosystems, including the biology and population structure of L. pertusa. To resolve the population structure and to assess the dispersal potential of this deep-sea coral, specific microsatellites markers and ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences ITS1 and ITS2 were used to investigate 10 different sampling sites, distributed along the European margin and in Scandinavian fjords. Both microsatellite and gene sequence data showed that L. pertusa should not be considered as one panmictic population in the northeast Atlantic but instead forms distinct, offshore and fjord populations. Results also suggest that, if some gene flow is occurring along the continental slope, the recruitment of sexually produced larvae is likely to be strongly local. The microsatellites showed significant levels of inbreeding and revealed that the level of genetic diversity and the contribution of asexual reproduction to the maintenance of the subpopulations were highly variable from site to site. These results are of major importance in the generation of a sustainable management strategy for these diversity-rich deep-sea ecosystems.