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Keywords:

  • ecotypes;
  • genotypic diversity;
  • inbreeding;
  • outbreeding depression;
  • transplant;
  • zooxanthellae

Abstract

Worldwide degradation of coral reef communities has prompted a surge in restoration efforts. They proceed largely without considering genetic factors because traditionally, coral populations have been regarded as open over large areas with little potential for local adaptation. Since, biophysical and molecular studies indicated that most populations are closed over shorter time and smaller spatial scales. Thus, it is justified to re-examine the potential for site adaptation in corals. There is ample evidence for differentiated populations, inbreeding, asexual reproduction and the occurrence of ecotypes, factors that may facilitate local adaptation. Discovery of widespread local adaptation would influence coral restoration projects mainly with regard to the physical and evolutionary distance from the source wild and/or captive bred propagules may be moved without causing a loss of fitness in the restored population. Proposed causes for loss of fitness as a result of (plant) restoration efforts include founder effects, genetic swamping, inbreeding and/or outbreeding depression. Direct evidence for any of these processes is scarce in reef corals due to a lack of model species that allow for testing over multiple generations and the separation of the relative contributions of algal symbionts and their coral hosts to the overall performance of the coral colony. This gap in our knowledge may be closed by employing novel population genetic and genomics approaches. The use of molecular tools may aid managers in the selection of appropriate propagule sources, guide spatial arrangement of transplants, and help in assessing the success of coral restoration projects by tracking the performance of transplants, thereby generating important data for future coral reef conservation and restoration projects.