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The role of deep reefs in shallow reef recovery: an assessment of vertical connectivity in a brooding coral from west and east Australia


Madeleine J. H. van Oppen, Fax: +61 7 47725852; E-mail:


Approximately one quarter of zooxanthellate coral species have a depth distribution from shallow waters (<30 m) down to mesophotic depths of 30–60 m. The deeper populations of such species are less likely to be affected by certain environmental perturbations, including high temperature/high irradiance causing coral bleaching. This has led to the hypothesis that deep populations may serve as refuges and a source of recruits for shallow reef habitats. The extent of vertical connectivity of reef coral species, however, is largely unquantified. Using 10 coral host microsatellite loci and sequences of the host mtDNA putative control region, as well as ribosomal DNA (rDNA) ITS2 sequences of the coral’s algal endosymbionts (Symbiodinium), we examine population structure, connectivity and symbiont specificity in the brooding coral Seriatopora hystrix across a depth profile in both northwest (Scott Reef) and northeast Australia (Yonge Reef). Strong genetic structuring over depth was observed in both regions based on the microsatellite loci; however, Yonge Reef exhibited an additional partitioning of mtDNA lineages (associated with specific symbiont ITS2 types), whereas Scott Reef was dominated by a single mtDNA lineage (with no apparent host-symbiont specificity). Evidence for recruitment of larvae of deep water origin into shallow habitats was found at Scott Reef, suggesting that recovery of shallow water habitats may be aided by migration from deep water refuges. Conversely, no migration from the genetically divergent deep slope populations into the shallow habitats was evident at Yonge Reef, making recovery of shallow habitats from deeper waters at this location highly unlikely.

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