Collaborative research: ENSO-enhanced gene flow across the Eastern Pacific Barrier

Project: Research project

Project Details


Coral reefs constitute the world's most-species-rich marine ecosystems, but anthropogenic changes threaten their health and jeopardize economies that depend on them. Populations of corals living in the eastern Pacific Ocean are especially precarious, as they inhabit a region where environmental conditions already dictate a marginal existence and they are isolated from other Pacific reef corals by 5000-8000 km of uninhabitable deep water (the Eastern Pacific Barrier, EPB). Managing these corals requires knowledge of which populations share common evolutionary histories and how dispersal presently links populations. This information has gone lacking because 1) the mitochondrial DNA markers often used to infer population relationships have proven invariant within coral species and thus uninformative, and 2) genetic analyses based on allele frequency data estimate migration averaged over thousands of generations, which may not reflect present patterns of population connectivity. Recent increases in the intensity of El-Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events may have altered patterns of inter-population dispersal over the last few generations. Such ENSO events halve the eastward transport time of propagules traveling from luxuriant central Pacific coral reefs to the eastern Pacific. This project will employ a combination of genetic techniques to determine 1) when populations of corals in the eastern Pacific diverged from those in the central Pacific, 2) how present-day coral populations in these regions are linked by dispersal, and 3) whether recent changes in currents caused by ENSO events have altered these patterns of exchange. Critical to the success of the work will be the application of new genetic analyses designed to recognize groups of populations that have been isolated only very recently (

Effective start/end date7/15/066/30/10


  • National Science Foundation: $262,671.00
  • National Science Foundation: $262,671.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.