• Acropora tenuis;
  • gene flow;
  • genetic connectivity;
  • Leeuwin Current;
  • management unit;
  • mass-spawning corals;
  • Northwest Australia;
  • reef-building corals


Understanding the evolutionary processes that have shaped existing patterns of genetic diversity of reef-building corals over broad scales is required to inform long-term conservation planning. Genetic structure and diversity of the mass-spawning hard coral, Acropora tenuis, were assessed with seven DNA microsatellite loci from a series of isolated and discontinuous coastal and offshore reef systems in northwest Australia. Significant subdivision was detected among all sites (FST = 0.062, RST = 0.090), with the majority of this variation due to genetic differentiation among reef systems. In addition, genetic divergence was detected between the coastal and offshore zones that cannot be adequately explained by geographic distance, indicating that transport of larvae between these zones via large-scale oceanic currents is rare even over time frames that account for connectivity over multiple generations. Significant differences in the amount of genetic diversity at each system were also detected, with higher diversity observed on the lower latitude reefs. The implications are that these reef systems of northwest Australia are not only demographically independent, but that they will also have to rely on their own genetic diversity to adapt to environmental change over the next few decades to centuries.