Conservation Genetics

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 577–591 | Cite as

Cryptic genetic divergence within threatened species of Acropora coral from the Indian and Pacific Oceans

  • Zoe T. Richards
  • Oliver Berry
  • Madeleine J. H. van Oppen
Research Article


Most hard corals have broad distributions, and historically this was attributed to their capability for extensive dispersal leading to high evolutionary and demographic inter-dependence among regions. More recently there has been a paradigm shift in the understanding of coral dispersal, driven largely by genetic evidence, which has put greater emphasis on self-recruitment and larval retention. There is now a growing body of evidence that morphologically cryptic species exist within many recognized ‘species’ of stony corals. Here, we characterise levels of genetic divergence within and between five species of Acropora sampled from disparate populations spanning the Indo-Pacific Oceans. We find that strong regional genetic differentiation corresponding to the separation of the Indian and Pacific Ocean basins is a consistent pattern in three of the five species examined. Furthermore, the extent of allopatric divergence within species is similar to that observed between species, implying negligible contemporary gene flow between regions in four of the five species examined. This is consistent with the presence of numerous morphologically cryptic allopatric subspecies or incipient Acropora species. If this is confirmed, the conservation status of several species, which are already demonstrably threatened, would require re-evaluation so that risks including silent extinctions and inappropriate translocations are properly managed.


Conservation Cryptic species Extinction Gene flow Population genetics Scleractinia 



Thanks to staff of the Orpheus Island Research Station, the College of the Marshall Islands and the Walindii Research Station. We gratefully acknowledge our colleagues who collected additional samples used in this study (Akira Iguchi; Natalie Rosser; David Abrego; Paul Muir). Thank you to Carden Wallace for verifying specimen identifications and Barbara Done for specimen curation at the Museum of Tropical Queensland. We thank Lesa Peplow and Mr. Andy Muirhead for their assistance in labwork conducted at the Australian Institute of Marine Science. We appreciate the constructive comments by an anonymous reviewer. ZR was supported by an Australian Postgraduate Fellowship at James Cook University and an International Society for Reef Studies Fellowship. ZR was supported in the write-up phase by Woodside Energy.

Supplementary material

10592_2015_807_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (247 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 246 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zoe T. Richards
    • 1
  • Oliver Berry
    • 2
  • Madeleine J. H. van Oppen
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Aquatic ZoologyWestern Australian MuseumWelshpoolAustralia
  2. 2.CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere FlagshipFloreatAustralia
  3. 3.Australian Institute of Marine ScienceTownsvilleAustralia
  4. 4.School of BiosciencesThe University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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