Abstract: Connectivity underpins the persistence and recovery of marine ecosystems. The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem and managed by an extensive network of no-take zones, however information about connectivity was not available to optimise the network’s configuration. In addition to traditional population genetic statistics, multivariate analyses, Bayesian clustering algorithms and assignment tests were used for the largest population genetic dataset for any organism on the GBR to date (Acropora tenuis, >2500 colonies; >50 reefs, genotyped for ten microsatellite loci) to demonstrate highly congruent patterns of connectivity between this common broadcast spawning reef-building coral and its congener Acropora millepora (~950 colonies; 20 reefs, genotyped for 12 microsatellite loci). For both species GBR reefs north of 19°S latitude are essentially panmictic whereas southern reefs are genetically distinct with higher levels of genetic diversity. In addition, there is genetic subdivision between inshore and offshore southern GBR reefs between 19°S and 21°S latitude. The inshore Keppel Islands (at 22°S) are genetically distinct for both species and, in contrast to most southern GBR reefs, have lower levels of genetic diversity, possibly as the result of bottlenecks caused by repeated disturbances (floods and cyclones). I will also present recently acquired genomic (SNP) data for A. tenuis that shows congruent patterns with the microsatellite data, but also signals of the effects of selection, particularly in the northern GBR. These connectivity results are consistent with predictions from recently published larval dispersal models for broadcast spawning corals on the GBR thereby providing robust connectivity information about the dominant reef-building genus Acropora for coral reef managers.
Bio: Vimoksalehi (Vee) Lukoschek completed her BSc (Hons) in marine biology, ecology and conservation, and her PhD on the molecular ecology and evolution of sea snakes at JCU in 2007. She continued her genetic research into sea snakes during a 2-year post-doctoral fellowship with Distinguished Prof. John C. Avise at the University of California, Irvine. In 2010 Vimoksalehi returned to Australia and joined the ARC CoE-CRS to work on genetic connectivity in corals on the Great Barrier Reef as a QLD Smart Future Fellow (2010-2013) in collaboration with Dr Madeleine van Oppen at AIMS. In 2013 she was awarded an ARC DECRA to develop genomics approaches for investigating larval dispersal and genetic connectivity in the GBR, focusing on Acropora species. Vimoksalehi maintains an interest in the conservation genetics of sea snakes and is currently supervising a PhD student on this topic