Identifying microevolutionary processes acting in populations of marine species with larval dispersal is a challenging but crucial task because of its conservation implications. In this context, recent improvements in the study of spatial genetic structure (SGS) are particularly promising because they allow accurate insights into the demographic and evolutionary processes at stake. Using an exhaustive sampling and a combination of image processing and population genetics, we highlighted significant SGS between colonies of Corallium rubrum over an area of half a square metre, which sheds light on a number of aspects of its population biology. Based on this SGS, we found the mean dispersal range within sites to be between 22.6 and 32.1 cm, suggesting that the surveyed area approximately corresponded to a breeding unit. We then conducted a kinship analysis, which revealed a complex half-sib family structure and allowed us to quantify the level of self-recruitment and to characterize aspects of the mating system of this species. Furthermore, significant temporal variations in allele frequencies were observed, suggesting low genetic drift. These results have important conservation implications for the red coral and further our understanding of the microevolutionary processes acting within populations of sessile marine species with a larval phase.
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