Dependence of gene flow on geographic distance in two solitary corals with different larval dispersal capabilities

Michael E. Hellberg, University of California, Davis


When the level of gene flow among populations depends upon the geographic distance separating them, genetic differentiation is relatively enhanced. Although the larval dispersal capabilities of marine organisms generally correlate with inferred levels of average gene flow, the effect of different models of larval development on the association between gene flow and geographic distance unknown. In this paper, I examined the relationship between gene flow and distance in two co-occurring solitary corals. Balanophyllia elegans brood large, nonfeeding planulae that generally crawl only short distances from their place of birth before setting. In contrast, Paracyathus stearnsii free-spawns and produces small planktonic larvae presumably capable of broad dispersal by oceanic. I calculated E- statistics using genetic variation at six (P stearnsii) or seven (B. elegans) polymorphic allozyme loci revealed by starch gel electrophoresis, and used these F-statistics to infer levels of gene flow. Average levels of gene flow among twelve Californian localities agreed with previous studies; the species with planktonic, feeding larvae was less genetically subdivided than the brooding species. In addition, geographic isolation between populations appeared to affect gene flow between populations in very different ways in the two species. In the brooding B. elegans, gene flow decline with increasing separation, and distance explained 31% of the variation in gene flow. In the planktonically dispersed P. stearnsii distance of separation between populations at the scale studied (10-1000 km) explained only 1% of the variation in gene flow between populations. The mechanisms generating geographic genetic differentiation in species with different models of larval development should vary fundamentally as a result of these qualitative differences in the dependence of gene flow on distance.