Colonial corals occur in a wide range of marine benthic habitats from the shallows to the deep ocean, often defining the structure of their local community. The black coral Leiopathes glaberrima is a long-lived foundation species occurring on carbonate outcrops in the Northern Gulf of Mexico (GoM). Multiple color morphs of L. glaberrima grow sympatrically in the region. Morphological, mitochondrial and nuclear ribosomal markers supported the hypothesis that color morphs constituted a single biological species and that colonies, regardless of color, were somewhat genetically differentiated east and west of the Mississippi Canyon. Ten microsatellite loci were used to determine finer-scale population genetic structure and reproductive characteristics. Gene flow was disrupted between and within two nearby (distance = 36.4 km) hardground sites and two sympatric microsatellite lineages, which might constitute cryptic species, were recovered. Lineage one was outbred and found in all sampled locations (N = 5) across 765.6 km in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Lineage two was inbred, reproducing predominantly by fragmentation, and restricted to sites around Viosca Knoll. In these sites the lineages and the color phenotypes occurred in different microhabitats, and models of maximum entropy suggested that depth and slope influence the distribution of the color phenotypes within the Vioska Knolls. We conclude that L. glaberrima is phenotypically plastic with a mixed reproductive strategy in the Northern GoM. Such strategy might enable this long-lived species to balance local recruitment with occasional long-distance dispersal to colonize new sites in an environment where habitat is limited.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)