Long-lived sedentary organisms with a massive morphology are often assumed to utilize a storage effect whereby the persistence of a small group of adults can maintain the population when sexual recruitment fails. However, employing storage effects could prove catastrophic if, under changing climatic conditions, the time period between favourable conditions becomes so prolonged that the population cannot be sustained solely be sexual recruitment. When a species has multiple reproductive options, a rapidly changing environment may favour alternative asexual means of propagation. Here, we revisit the importance of asexual dispersal in a massive coral subject to severe climate-induced disturbance. Montastraea annularis is a major framework-builder of Caribbean coral reefs but its survival is threatened by the increasing cover of macroalgae that prevents settlement of coral larvae. To estimate levels of asexual recruitment within populations of M. annularis , samples from three sites in Honduras were genotyped using four, polymorphic microsatellite loci. A total of 114 unique genets were identified with 8% consisting of two or more colonies and an exceptionally large genet at the third site comprising 14 colonies. At least 70% of multicolony genets observed were formed by physical breakage, consistent with storm damage. Our results reveal that long-lived massive corals can propagate using asexual methods even though sexual strategies predominate.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology