Genetic structure in the coral, Montastraea cavernosa: assessing genetic differentiation among and within Mesophotic reefs

PLoS One. 2013 May 29;8(5):e65845. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065845. Print 2013.


Mesophotic coral reefs (30-150 m) have recently received increased attention as a potential source of larvae (e.g., the refugia hypothesis) to repopulate a select subset of the shallow water (<30 m) coral fauna. To test the refugia hypothesis we used highly polymorphic Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism (AFLP) markers as a means to assess small-scale genetic heterogeneity between geographic locations and across depth clines in the Caribbean coral, Montastraea cavernosa. Zooxanthellae-free DNA extracts of coral samples (N = 105) were analyzed from four depths, shallow (3-10 m), medium (15-25 m), deep (30-50 m) and very deep (60-90 m) from Little Cayman Island (LCI), Lee Stocking Island (LSI), Bahamas and San Salvador (SS), Bahamas which range in distance from 170 to 1,600 km apart. Using AMOVA analysis there were significant differences in ΦST values in pair wise comparisons between LCI and LSI. Among depths at LCI, there was significant genetic differentiation between shallow and medium versus deep and very deep depths in contrast there were no significant differences in ΦST values among depths at LSI. The assignment program AFLPOP, however, correctly assigned 95.7% of the LCI and LSI samples to the depths from which they were collected, differentiating among populations as little as 10 to 20 m in depth from one another. Discriminant function analysis of the data showed significant differentiation among samples when categorized by collection site as well as collection depth. FST outlier analyses identified 2 loci under positive selection and 3 under balancing selection at LCI. At LSI 2 loci were identified, both showing balancing selection. This data shows that adult populations of M. cavernosa separated by depths of tens of meters exhibits significant genetic structure, indicative of low population connectivity among and within sites and are not supplying successful recruits to adjacent coral reefs less than 30 m in depth.

MeSH terms

  • Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism Analysis
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / genetics*
  • Anthozoa / growth & development
  • Caribbean Region
  • Coral Reefs*
  • DNA / analysis
  • DNA / genetics
  • Ecosystem
  • Genetic Drift
  • Genetic Loci / genetics*
  • Genetics, Population / methods
  • Selection, Genetic*


  • DNA

Grant support

The authors have no support or funding to report.