Contrasting patterns of population structure and gene flow facilitate exploration of connectivity in two widely distributed temperate octocorals
Springer Nature for Genetics Society
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Connectivity is an important component of metapopulation dynamics in marine systems and can influence population persistence, migration rates and conservation decisions associated with Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). In this study, we compared the genetic diversity, gene flow and population structure of two octocoral species, Eunicella verrucosa and Alcyonium digitatum, in the northeast Atlantic (ranging from the northwest of Ireland and the southern North Sea, to southern Portugal), using two panels of thirteen and eight microsatellite loci, respectively. Our results identified regional genetic structure in E. verrucosa partitioned between populations from southern Portugal, northwest Ireland, and Britain/France; subsequent hierarchical analysis of population structure also indicated reduced gene flow between southwest Britain and northwest France. However, over a similar geographical area, A. digitatum showed little evidence of population structure, suggesting high gene flow and/or a large effective population size; indeed, the only significant genetic differentiation detected in A. digitatum occurred between North Sea samples and those from the English Channel/northeast Atlantic. In both species the vast majority of gene flow originated from sample sites within regions, with populations in southwest Britain being the predominant source of contemporary exogenous genetic variants for the populations studied. Unsurprisingly, historical patterns of gene flow appeared more complex, though again southwest Britain appeared an important source of genetic variation for both species. Our findings have major conservation implications, particularly for E. verrucosa, a protected species in UK waters and listed by the IUCN as ‘Vulnerable’, and for the designation and management of European MPAs.
We thank Natural England (project No. RP0286, contract No. SAE 03-02-146), the NERC (grant No. NE/L002434/1) and the University of Exeter for funding this research. Additional funding for sample collection, travel and microsatellite development was provided by the EU Framework 7 ASSEMBLE programme, agreement no. 227799, and NERC grant No. NBAF-362.
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Published online 15 March 2017