Genetic and Ecological Perspective of the Recovery of Coral Reefs in Palau

Cros, Annick
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [December 2016]
Connectivity plays a fundamental role in structuring populations. Understanding the connectivity process has important implications for the conservation of marine organisms, particularly in the design of marine protected areas. However, tracking pelagic larvae in a marine environment is challenging and there is still a lack of field data to incorporate connectivity into marine conservation planning. This research uses high throughput microsatellite genotyping of the coral Acropora hyacinthus to characterize population genetic structure of the reefs of Palau after the 1998 bleaching event in order to understand the processes driving the recovery of the reef and connectivity of populations and to provide management recommendations. The results of the study indicate that Palau did not recover from a pulse event of long distance dispersal from Yap, 452 km away, but from surviving coral colonies (Chapter II); that populations of Acropora hyacinthus are self-seeding, creating a mosaic of genetic neighborhoods around Palau (Chapter III) and that short distance dispersal is responsible for the genetic structure of the population of Acropora hyacinthus while genetic neighborhoods can explain patterns of chaotic genetic patchiness at a larger scale (Chapter IV). The study also finds that the coral cover of the reefs of Palau recovered at different rates for deep and shallow sites and for different locations but without any shift towards an algae dominated reef (Chapter V). These results, and the prediction that Palau will be impacted by more frequent thermal stress, support the recommendations that authorities should increase conservation efforts locally rather than at a regional level with priority given to managing reefs outside MPAs and to extending the areas of protection (Chapter VI). Overall, the findings of this study highlight that, contrary to the long-lived paradigm that marine populations are structured by large-scale connectivity, short distance dispersal can dictate the genetic differences coral populations.
Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2016.
Includes bibliographical references.
Population Genetics, high throughput sequencing, Acropora hyacinthus, Palau, coral reefs, conservation, marine protected areas
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