The role of sexual and asexual reproduction in structuring high latitude populations of the reef coral Pocillopora damicornis

Heredity (Edinb). 2004 Jun;92(6):557-68. doi: 10.1038/sj.hdy.6800459.


The genotypic composition of populations of the asexually viviparous coral Pocillopora damicornis varies in a manner that challenges classical models of the roles of sexual and asexual reproduction. On the geographically isolated Hawaiian reefs and high latitude reefs in Western Australia, P. damicornis populations are highly clonal although it has been argued that sexual reproduction via broadcast spawning generates widely dispersed colonists. In contrast, on eastern Australia's tropical Great Barrier Reef populations show little evidence of clonality. Here, we compare the genotypic diversity of adult and juvenile colonies of P. damicornis at seven sites on eastern Australia's high latitude Lord Howe Island reefs to determine if levels of clonality vary with habitat heterogeneity and age of colonies (as predicted by theory) or alternatively if clonality is again always high as for other isolated reef systems. We found 55-100% of the genotypic diversity expected for random mating at all seven sites and little evidence of asexual recruitment irrespective of habitat heterogeneity (sheltered versus wave exposed) or colony age. We found reduced levels of genetic diversity compared with tropical reefs (2.75 versus 4 alleles/locus), which supports earlier findings that Lord Howe Island is an isolated reef system. Furthermore, heterozygote deficits coupled with significant genetic subdivision among sites (FST=0.102+/-0.03) is typical of populations that have limited larval connections and are inbred. We conclude that the genetic structure of P. damicornis at Lord Howe Island reflects populations that are maintained through localised recruitment of sexually produced larvae.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / enzymology
  • Anthozoa / genetics*
  • Australia
  • Enzymes / genetics
  • Genetic Variation / genetics*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Geography
  • Reproduction / genetics


  • Enzymes