The expanse of deep water between the central Pacific islands and the continental shelf of the Eastern Tropical Pacific is regarded as the world's most potent marine biogeographic barrier. During recurrent climatic fluctuations (ENSO, El Niño Southern Oscillation), however, changes in water temperature and the speed and direction of currents become favourable for trans-oceanic dispersal of larvae from central Pacific to marginal eastern Pacific reefs. Here, we investigate the population connectivity of the reef-building coral Porites lobata across the Eastern Pacific Barrier (EPB). Patterns of recent gene flow in samples (n = 1173) from the central Pacific and the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) were analysed with 12 microsatellite loci. Results indicated that P. lobata from the ETP are strongly isolated from those in the central Pacific and Hawaii ( = 0.509; P < 0.001). However, samples from Clipperton Atoll, an oceanic island on the eastern side of the EPB, grouped with the central Pacific. Within the central Pacific, Hawaiian populations were strongly isolated from three co-occurring clusters found throughout the remainder of the central Pacific. No further substructure was evident in the ETP. Changes in oceanographic conditions during ENSO over the past several thousand years thus appear insufficient to support larval deliveries from the central Pacific to the ETP or strong postsettlement selection acts on ETP settlers from the central Pacific. Recovery of P. lobata populations in the frequently disturbed ETP thus must depend on local larval sources.
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