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Keywords:

  • Caribbean;
  • connectivity;
  • individual-based model;
  • microsatellites;
  • Montastraea annularis

Abstract

Understanding patterns of connectivity among populations of marine organisms is essential for the development of realistic, spatially explicit models of population dynamics. Two approaches, empirical genetic patterns and oceanographic dispersal modelling, have been used to estimate levels of evolutionary connectivity among marine populations but rarely have their potentially complementary insights been combined. Here, a spatially realistic Lagrangian model of larval dispersal and a theoretical genetic model are integrated with the most extensive study of gene flow in a Caribbean marine organism. The 871 genets collected from 26 sites spread over the wider Caribbean subsampled 45.8% of the 1900 potential unique genets in the model. At a coarse scale, significant consensus between modelled estimates of genetic structure and empirical genetic data for populations of the reef-building coral Montastraea annularis is observed. However, modelled and empirical data differ in their estimates of connectivity among northern Mesoamerican reefs indicating that processes other than dispersal may dominate here. Further, the geographic location and porosity of the previously described east–west barrier to gene flow in the Caribbean is refined. A multi-prong approach, integrating genetic data and spatially realistic models of larval dispersal and genetic projection, provides complementary insights into the processes underpinning population connectivity in marine invertebrates on evolutionary timescales.