Marine Biology

, 165:135 | Cite as

Population genetics of Narella versluysi (Octocorallia: Alcyonacea, Primnoidae) in the Bay of Biscay (NE Atlantic)

  • Chris YessonEmail author
  • Erin Wright
  • Andreia Braga-Henriques
Original paper


Octocoral species are globally distributed in all oceans and may form dense communities known as vulnerable marine ecosystems. Despite their importance as deep-water habitats, the underlying genetic structure and gene-flow patterns of most deep-water populations remain largely unknown. Here, we evaluated genetic connectivity of the primnoid octocoral Narella versluysi across the continental shelf of Bay of Biscay, spanning 360 km (95 samples from submarine canyons, ranging from 709–1247 m depths). We report 12 novel microsatellite markers which were used to genotype 83 samples from 6 populations. Sixteen samples were sequenced for three mitochondrial DNA regions (Folmer region of COI with an adjacent intergenic region igr1, MT-ND2 gene, and mtMutS homolog 1 region). All sequence haplotypes and genetic clusters were found in multiple sites spanning more than 200 km. Overall, our analyses suggest that there is high gene flow between colonies of N. versluysi among all study sites. There is no significant geographic structure and no pattern of isolation by distance or depth. Connectivity is facilitated by the prevailing current which runs along the shelf break, and could be a mechanism to connect all of the sampled locations. The high connectivity over large geographic distance is a positive sign for a potentially vulnerable organism and may provide some resilience to disturbance. This information is crucial for a better understanding of how this fragile benthic fauna may respond to climatic and anthropogenic disturbances, which is a cornerstone for effective habitat management.



Thanks go to the crew of “NO Porquois Pas?”, ROV pilots, and researchers on the BobEco cruise. This work was supported by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) under grant agreement number 213144, the “CoralFISH” Project. Thanks also to Dada Gottelli, Rob Yarlett, and Meesha Patel for assistance in the lab. ABH was partly supported by (1) an FRCT grant of the Government of the Azores (ref. M3.1.2/F/016/2008), (2) the Oceanic Observatory of Madeira project (M1420-01-0145-FEDER-000001-Observatório Oceânico da Madeira-OOM) co-financed by the Madeira Regional Operational Programme (Madeira 14-20) under the Portugal 2020 strategy through the European Regional Development Fund, and (3) the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT, Portugal), through the strategic project UID/MAR/04292/2013 granted to MARE.


This study was funded by European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) under grant agreement number 213144, the “CoralFISH” Project.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the sampling, care, and use of organisms were followed. Approval for this work was obtained from the institutions of all participants.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of ZoologyZoological Society of LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.MARE-Marine and Environmental Sciences CentreEstação de Biologia Marinha do FunchalFunchalPortugal
  3. 3.ARDITI-Regional Agency for the Development of Research, Technology and InnovationOceanic Observatory of Madeira (OOM)FunchalPortugal

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