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Population Structure of a Clonal Gorgonian Coral: The Interplay Between Clonal Reproduction and Disturbance

Mary Alice Coffroth and Howard R. Lasker
Evolution
Vol. 52, No. 2 (Apr., 1998), pp. 379-393
DOI: 10.2307/2411075
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2411075
Page Count: 15
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Population Structure of a Clonal Gorgonian Coral: The Interplay Between Clonal Reproduction and Disturbance
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Abstract

Clonality is a common feature of plants and benthic marine organisms. In some cases clonal propagation results in a modest increase in population density, while in other cases dense populations may be generated by the propagation of only a few clones. We analyzed the population structure of the clonal gorgonian Plexaura kuna across several reef habitats with a range of disturbance regimes in the San Blas Islands, Panama, and the Florida Keys, U.S.A. Using multilocus DNA fingerprinting to distinguish clones, we estimated that clones ranged in size from single individuals to 500 colonies. The number of genotypes identified on nine reefs ranged from three to 25. Population density and clonal structure varied markedly among reefs with GO:GE ranging from 0.03 to 1.00. On some reefs vegetative reproduction transformed P kuna from a rare species to the numerically most abundant gorgonian. The effect of clonal propagation on P. kuna population structure was dependent on interactions between fragmentation and the reef environment (disturbance regime, substratum). We present a generalized model relating population structure of clonal species to disturbance and the mode of vegetative propagation. Disturbance promotes colony propagation and skews the size-frequency distribution of clones among P kuna and many species that propagate via fragmentation. Propagation of these species is promoted by disturbance (disturbance sensitive), and they tend to have clones that are dispersed across local sites. Species that fragment and have dispersed clones, have high genotypic diversity in habitats with low levels of disturbance. Genotypic diversity then decreases at intermediate disturbance and increases again at the highest disturbance levels. Clonal species that do not rely on disturbance for vegetative propagation (disturbance insensitive) generally do not disperse and form aggregated clones. Among these taxa disturbance has a greater affect on individual survival than on propagation. Genotypic diversity is directly related to the level of disturbance until very high levels of disturbance, at which time genotypic diversity declines.

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