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Keywords:

  • conservation biology;
  • Corallium rubrum;
  • genetic clustering;
  • isolation by distance;
  • microsatellites

Abstract

Combined action from over-harvesting and recent mass mortality events potentially linked to ongoing climate changes has led to new concerns for the conservation of shallow populations (5–60 m) of Corallium rubrum, an octocorallian that is mainly found in the Mediterranean Sea. The present study was designed to analyse population structure and relationships at different spatial scales (from 10s of meters to 100s of kilometres) with a focus on dispersal pattern. We also performed the first analysis of the distribution of genetic diversity using a comparative approach between regional-clusters and samples. Forty populations dwelling in four distinct regions between 14 and 60 m in depth were genotyped using 10 microsatellites. Our main results indicate (i) a generalized pair-sample differentiation combined with a weak structure between regional-clusters; (ii) the occurrence of isolation by distance at the global scale, but also within two of the three analysed regional-clusters; (iii) a high level of genetic diversity over the surveyed area with a heterogeneous distribution from regional-cluster to sample levels. The evolutionary consequences of these results are discussed and their management implications are provided.