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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 416:35-45 (2010)  -  DOI:

Location and disturbance affect population genetic structure in four coral species of the genus Acropora on the Great Barrier Reef

P. Souter1, B. L. Willis2,3, L. K. Bay1,2, M. J. Caley1, A. Muirhead1, M. J. H. van Oppen1,*

1Australian Institute of Marine Science, PMB #3, Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia
2ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, and 3School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: The impact of a mass bleaching event on temporal and spatial population genetic structure in 4 scleractinian coral species in the Acropora aspera group was studied around the Palm Islands in the central Great Barrier Reef. Species status of sympatric populations of 2 of the 4 species, A. millepora and A. spathulata, was confirmed by the population genetic data; these species have recently been separated based on morphological and breeding characters. Spatial analyses of population samples from 2004 detected differences in the level of gene flow among locations. No significant genetic differentiation was inferred between conspecific populations at Orpheus and Pelorus Islands, which are both located in the northern part of the island group and separated by ~1000 m. In contrast, all populations at Fantome Island were genetically differentiated, despite this island being located only 11 km south. Sampling of A. millepora and A. pulchra in the year prior to the 1998 mass bleaching event enabled a temporal comparison across this event. The genetic composition of these populations changed between 1997 and 2004, but patterns of genetic differentiation among locations were similar in 1997 and 2004. Extensive mortality of these species following the 1998 bleaching event did not cause an apparent reduction in genetic diversity and identical multi-locus genotypes were encountered in both temporal samples, suggesting that re-growth of surviving genotypes contributed to the recovery of these populations. Comparisons among the 4 study species revealed lower genetic diversity in A. papillare, consistent with its low abundance throughout its distributional range.

KEY WORDS: Acropora · Climate change · Palm Islands · Central Great Barrier Reef · Genetic diversity · Genetic connectivity · Coral bleaching

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Cite this article as: Souter P, Willis BL, Bay LK, Caley MJ, Muirhead A, van Oppen MJH (2010) Location and disturbance affect population genetic structure in four coral species of the genus Acropora on the Great Barrier Reef. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 416:35-45.

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