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Keywords:

  • conservation;
  • gene flow;
  • gorgonian coral;
  • microsatellites;
  • population genetics;
  • Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae

Abstract

The primary mechanism of gene flow in marine sessile invertebrates is larval dispersal. In Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae, a commercially important Caribbean gorgonian coral, a proportion of the larvae drop to the substratum within close proximity to the maternal colony, and most matings occur between individuals in close proximity to each other. Such limited dispersal of reproductive propagules suggests that gene flow is limited in this gorgonian. In this study, we characterized the population genetic structure of P. elisabethae across the Bahamas using six microsatellite loci. P. elisabethae was collected from 18 sites across the Bahamas. Significant deviations from Hardy–Weinberg equilibrium due to deficits of heterozygotes within populations were detected for all 18 populations in at least one of the six screened loci. Levels of genetic structure among populations of P. elisabethae were high and significant. A distance analysis placed populations within three groups, one formed by populations located within Exuma Sound, a semi-isolated basin, another consisting of populations located outside the basin and a third group comprising two populations from San Salvador Island. The patterns of genetic variation found in this study are concordant with the life-history traits of the species and in part with the geography of the Bahamas. Conservation and management plans developed for P. elisabethae should considered the high degree of genetic structure observed among populations of the species, as well as the high genetic diversity found in the San Salvador and the Exuma Sound populations.