Genetic structure and diversity of the mustard hill coral Porites astreoides along the Florida Keys reef tract

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Abstract

Increases in local and global stressors have led to major declines in coral populations throughout the western Atlantic. While abundances of other species have declined, however, the relative abundance of the mustard hill coral, Porites astreoides, has increased. Porites astreoides is relatively resilient to some stressors, and because of its mixed reproductive strategies, its populations often recover quickly following disturbances. The ability for P. astreoides to continue as a potential “winner” in western Atlantic reefs relies on maintaining sufficient genetic variation within populations to support acclimatization and adaptation to current and future environmental change. Without high genetic diversity and gene flow within the population, it would have limited capacity for adaptation and the species’ competitive advantages could be short-lived. In this study, we determined the genetic relatedness of 37 P. astreoides colonies at four shallow reefs along the offshore Florida Keys Reef Tract (FKRT), a region particularly hard-hit by recent disturbances. Using previously designed microsatellite markers, we determined the genetic diversity and connectivity of individuals among and between sites. Our results suggest that the FKRT likely contains a single, well-mixed genetic population of P. astreoides, with high levels of gene flow and evidence for larval migration throughout the region. This suggests that regional populations of P. astreoides likely have a higher chance of maintaining resilience than many other western Atlantic species as they face current and future disturbances.

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Gallery, D. N., Green, M. L., Kuffner, I. B., Lenz, E. A., & Toth, L. T. (2021). Genetic structure and diversity of the mustard hill coral Porites astreoides along the Florida Keys reef tract. Marine Biodiversity, 51(4). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12526-021-01196-7

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