Mesophotic habitats could be sheltered from natural and anthropogenic disturbances and act as reproductive refuges, providing propagules to replenish shallower populations. Molecular markers can be used as proxies evaluating the connectivity and inferring population structure and larval dispersal. This study characterizes population structure as well as horizontal and vertical genetic connectivity of the broadcasting coral Pocillopora verrucosa from Ludao, a small oceanic island off the eastern coast of Taiwan. We genotyped 75 P. verrucosa specimens from three sites (Gongguan, Dabaisha, and Guiwan) at three depth ranges (Shallow: 7–15 m, Mid-depth: 23–30 m, and Deep: 38–45 m), spanning shallow to upper mesophotic coral reefs, with eight microsatellite markers. F-statistics showed a moderate differentiation (FST = 0.106, p<0.05) between two adjacent locations (Dabaisha 23–30 and Dabaisha 38–45 m), but no differentiation elsewhere, suggesting high levels of connectivity among sites and depths. STRUCTURE analysis showed no genetic clustering among sites or depths, indicating that all Pocillopora individuals could be drawn from a single panmictic population. Simulations of recent migration assigned 30 individuals (40%) to a different location from where they were collected. Among them, 1/3 were assigned to deeper locations, 1/3 to shallower populations and 1/3 were assigned to the right depth but a different site. These results suggest high levels of vertical and horizontal connectivity, which could enhance the recovery of P. verrucosa following disturbances around Ludao, a feature that agrees with demographic studies portraying this species as an opportunistic scleractinian.
Scleractinia (Hard Corals)
SCUBA (open-circuit or unspecified)