Population structure is not a simple function of reproductive mode and larval type: insights from tropical corals


  • Karen J. Miller,

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 77, Hobart 7001, Tasmania, Australia; and
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  • David J. Ayre

    1. Institute for Conservation Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Wollongong, Northfields Avenue, Wollongong, 2522, NSW, Australia
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*Present address and correspondence: Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 77, Hobart, Australia 7000. E-mail: Karen.Miller@utas.edu.au


  • 1For a wide range of organisms, heritable variation in life-history characteristics has been shown to be strongly subject to selection, reflecting the impact that variation in characters such as genotypic diversity, duration of larval development and adaptations for dispersal can have on the fitness of offspring and the make-up of populations. Indeed, variation in life-history characteristics, especially reproduction and larval type, have often been used to predict patterns of dispersal and resultant population structures in marine invertebrates.
  • 2Scleractinian corals are excellent models with which to test this relationship, as they exhibit almost every possible combination of reproductive mode and larval type. Some general patterns are emerging but, contrary to expectations, genetic data suggest that while populations of broadcast spawning species may be genotypically diverse they may be heavily reliant on localized recruitment rather than widespread dispersal of larvae.
  • 3Here we use microsatellites to test the importance of localized recruitment by comparing the genetic structure of populations of two broadcast spawning corals with contrasting modes of reproduction and larval development; Goniastrea favulus is self-compatible, has sticky, negatively buoyant eggs and larvae and is expected to have restricted dispersal of gametes and larvae. In contrast, Platygyra daedalea is self-incompatibile, spawns positively buoyant egg-sperm bundles and has planktonic development.
  • 4Surprisingly, spatial-autocorrelation revealed no fine-scale clustering of similar genotypes within sites for G. favulus, but showed a non-random distribution of genotypes in P. daedalea. Both species showed similar levels of genetic subdivision among sites separated by 50–100 m (FST = 0·03), suggesting that larval dispersal may be equivalent in both species.
  • 5Interestingly, as fragmentation has been considered rare in massive corals, our sample of 284 P. daedalea colonies included 28 replicated genotypes that were each unlikely (P < 0·05) to have been derived independently from sexual reproduction.
  • 6We conclude that the extreme life history of G. favulus does not produce unusually fine-scale genetic structure and subsequently, that reproductive mode and larval type may not be not good predictors of population structure or dispersal ability.