Genetic diversity and connectivity in a brooding reef coral at the limit of its distribution

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Noreen, AME, Harrison, PL & Van Oppen, MJH 2009, 'Genetic diversity and connectivity in a brooding reef coral at the limit of its distribution', Proceedings of the Royal Society, vol. 276, no. 1675.

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Remote populations are predicted to be vulnerable owing to their isolation from potential source reefs, and usually low population size and associated increased extinction risk. We investigated genetic diversity, population subdivision and connectivity in the brooding reef coral Seriatopora hystrix at the limits of its Eastern Australian (EA) distribution and three sites in the southern Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Over the approximately 1270 km survey range, high levels of population subdivision were detected (global FST = 0.224), with the greatest range in pairwise FST values observed among the three southernmost locations: Lord Howe Island, Elizabeth Reef and Middleton Reef. Flinders Reef, located between the GBR and the more southerly offshore reefs, was highly isolated and showed the signature of a recent bottleneck. High pairwise FST values and the presence of multiple genetic clusters indicate that EA subtropical coral populations have been historically isolated from each other and the GBR. One putative first-generation migrant was detected from the GBR into the EA subtropics. Occasional long-distance dispersal is supported by changes in species composition at these high-latitude reefs and the occurrence of new species records over the past three decades. While subtropical populations exhibited significantly lower allelic richness than their GBR counterparts, genetic diversity was still moderately high. Furthermore, subtropical populations were not inbred and had a considerable number of private alleles. The results suggest that these high-latitude S. hystrix populations are supplemented by infrequent long-distance migrants from the GBR and may have adequate population sizes to maintain viability and resist severe losses of genetic diversity.