As coral reefs decline, cryptic sources of resistance and resilience to stress may be increasingly important for the persistence of these communities. Among these sources, inter- and intraspecific diversity remain understudied on coral reefs but extensively impact a variety of traits in other ecosystems. We use a combination of field and sequencing data at two sites in Florida and two in the Dominican Republic to examine clonal diversity and genetic differentiation of high- and low-density aggregations of the threatened coral Acropora cervicornisin the Caribbean. We find that high-density aggregations called thickets are composed of up to 30 genotypes at a single site, but 47% of genotypes are also found as isolated, discrete colonies outside these aggregations. Genet–ramet ratios are comparable for thickets (0.636) and isolated colonies after rarefaction (0.569), suggesting the composition of each aggregation is not substantially different and highlighting interactions between colonies as a potential influence on structure. There are no differences in growth rate, but a significant positive correlation between genotypic diversity and coral cover, which may be due to the influence of interactions between colonies on survivorship or fragment retention during asexual reproduction. Many polymorphisms distinguish isolated colonies from thickets despite the shared genotypes found here, including putative nonsynonymous mutations that change amino acid sequence in 25 loci. These results highlight intraspecific diversity as a density-dependent factor that may impact traits important for the structure and function of coral reefs.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation