BUMP’s Pete Buston, Sarah Davies, John Finnerty, Karina Scavo Lord, and Kathryn Leneski Published in The Royal Society

BUMP professors Pete Buston, Sarah Davies, John Finnerty, and graduate students Karina Scavo Lord and Kathryn Leneski were involved in a study on corals. Corals are critical to marine biodiversity. Reproduction and dispersal are key to their resilience, but rarely quantified in nature. Exploiting a unique system—a fully censused, longitudinally characterized, semi-isolated population inhabiting mangroves—they used 2bRAD sequencing to demonstrate that rampant asexual reproduction most likely via parthenogenesis and limited dispersal enable the persistence of a natural population of thin-finger coral (Porites divaricata). Unlike previous studies on coral dispersal, knowledge of colony age and location enabled them to identify plausible parent–offspring relationships within multiple clonal lineages and develop tightly constrained estimates of larval dispersal; the best-fitting model indicates dispersal is largely limited to a few metres from parent colonies. Their results explain why this species is adept at colonizing mangroves but suggest limited genetic diversity in mangrove populations and limited connectivity between mangroves and nearby reefs. As P. divaricata is gonochoristic, and parthenogenesis would be restricted to females (whereas fragmentation, which is presumably common in reef and seagrass habitats, is not), mangrove populations likely exhibit skewed sex ratios. These findings suggest that coral reproductive diversity can lead to distinctly different demographic outcomes in different habitats. Thus, coral conservation will require the protection of the entire coral habitat mosaic, and not just reefs. Read more here.