Foundation species such as redwoods, seagrasses and corals are often long-lived and clonal. Genets may consist of hundreds of members (ramets) and originated hundreds to thousands of years ago. As climate change and other stressors exert selection pressure on species, the demography of populations changes. Yet, because size does not indicate age in clonal organisms, demographic models are missing data necessary to predict the resilience of many foundation species. Here, we correlate somatic mutations with genet age of corals and provide the first, preliminary estimates of genet age in a colonial animal. We observed somatic mutations at five microsatellite loci in rangewide samples of the endangered coral, Acropora palmata (n = 3352). Colonies harboured 342 unique mutations in 147 genets. Genet age ranged from 30 to 838 years assuming a mutation rate of 1.195−04 per locus per year based on colony growth rates and 236 to 6500 years assuming a mutation rate of 1.542−05 per locus per year based on sea level changes to habitat availability. Long-lived A. palmata genets imply a large capacity to tolerate past environmental change, and yet recent mass mortality events in A. palmata suggest that capacity is now being frequently exceeded.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics