Contributions of Sexual and Asexual Reproduction to Population Structure in the Clonal Soft Coral, Alcyonium rudyi

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Biology (HMC)

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Numerous studies of population structure in sessile clonal marine invertebrates have demonstrated low genotypic diversity and nonequilibrium genotype frequencies within local populations that are monopolized by relatively few, highly replicated genets. All of the species studied to date produce planktonic sexual propagules capable of dispersing long distances; despite local genotypic disequilibria, populations are often panmictic over large geographic areas. The population structure paradigm these species represent may not be typical of the majority of clonal invertebrate groups, however, which are believed to produce highly philopatric sexual propagules. I used allozyme variation to examine the population structure of the temperate soft coral, Alcyonium rudyi, a typical clonal species whose sexually produced larvae and asexually produced ramets both have very low dispersal capabilities. Like other clonal plants and invertebrates, the local population dynamics of A. rudyi are dominated by asexual reproduction, and recruitment of new sexually produced genets occurs infrequently. As expected from its philopatric larval stage, estimates of genetic differentiation among populations of A. rudyi were highly significant at all spatial scales examined (mean 0 = 0.300 among 20 populations spanning a 1100-km range), suggesting that genetic exchange seldom occurs among populations separated by as little as a few hundred meters. Mapping of multilocus allozyme genotypes within a dense aggregation of A. rudyi ramets confirmed that dispersal of asexual propagules is also very limited: members of the same genet usually remain within < 50 cm of one another on the same rock surface. Unlike most previously studied clonal invertebrates, populations of A. rudyi do not appear to be dominated by a few widespread genets: estimates of genotypic diversity (Go) within 20 geographically distinct populations did not differ from expectations for outcrossing, sexual populations. Despite theoretical suggestions that philopatric dispersal combined with typically small effective population sizes should promote inbreeding in clonal species, inbreeding does not appear to contribute significantly to the population structure of A. rudyi. Genet genotype frequencies conformed to Hardy-Weinberg expectations in all populations, and inbreeding coefficients (/) were close to zero. In general, the population structure of A. rudyi did not differ significantly from that observed among outcrossing sexual species with philopatric larval dispersal. Age estimates suggest, however, that genets of A. rudyi live for many decades. Genet longevity may promote high genotypic diversity within A. rudyi populations and may be the most important evolutionary consequence of clonal reproduction in this species and the many others that share its dispersal characteristics.

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© 1997 Society for the Study of Evolution