Asynchronous spawning in sympatric populations of a hard coral reveals cryptic species and ancient genetic lineages
Genetic subdivision within a species is a vital component of the evolution of biodiversity. In some species of Acropora corals in Western Australia, conspecific individuals spawn in two seasons 6 months apart, which has the potential to impede gene flow and result in genetic divergence. Genetic comparison of sympatric spring and autumn spawners of Acropora samoensis was conducted to assess the level of reproductive isolation and genetic divergence between the spawning groups based on multiple loci (13 microsatellite loci, the mitochondrial control region and two nuclear introns). Bayesian clustering and principal coordinate analysis of the microsatellite loci showed a high level of genetic differentiation between the spawning groups (F'ST = 0.30; P < 0.001), as did the sequence data from PaxC and Calmodulin (¿ST = 0.97 and 0.31, respectively). At the PaxC locus, the autumn and spring spawners were associated with two divergent lineages that were separated by an evolutionary distance of 1.7% and statistical tests indicate divergent selection in PaxC, suggesting this gene may play a role in coral spawning. This study indicates that the autumn and spring spawners represent two cryptic species, and highlights the importance of asynchronous spawning as a mechanism influencing speciation in corals.