Demographic history and asynchronous spawning shape genetic differentiation among populations of the hard coral Acropora tenuis in Western Australia
Genetic subdivision within populations can ultimately lead to the evolution of new species, and in populations of broadcast-spawners a potential facilitator of genetic subdivision is asynchronous reproduction. However, the factors that shape genetic variation in marine systems are complex and ambiguous, and ecological genetic structure may be influenced by the overriding signature of past demographic events. Here, the relative roles of the timing of reproduction and historical geography on the partitioning of genetic variation were examined in seven populations of the broadcast-spawning coral Acropora tenuis over 12° of latitude. The analysis of multiple loci (mitochondrial control region, two nuclear introns and six microsatellites) revealed significant genetic division between the most northern reef and all other reefs, suggesting that WA reefs were re-colonized from two different sources after the Pleistocene glaciation. Accompanying this pattern was significant genetic differentiation associated with different breeding seasons (spring and autumn), which was greatest in PaxC, in which there were two divergent lineages (¿ST = 0.98). This is the second study to find divergent clades of PaxC associated with spring and autumn spawners, strengthening the suggestion of some selective connection to timing of reproduction in corals. This study reiterates the need to incorporate reproductive timing into population genetic studies of corals because it facilitates genetic differentiation; however, careful analysis of population genetic data is required to separate ecological and evolutionary processes.