Molecular ecology

More than one genotype: how common is intracolonial genetic variability in scleractinian corals?

PMID 25872099


In recent years, a few colonial marine invertebrates have shown intracolonial genetic variability, a previously unreported phenomenon. Intracolonial genetic variability describes the occurrence of more than a single genotype within an individual colony. This variability can be traced back to two underlying processes: chimerism and mosaicism. Chimerism is the fusion of two or more individuals, whereas mosaicism mostly derives from somatic cell mutations. Until now, it remained unclear to what degree the ecologically important group of hermatypic (reef building) corals might be affected. We investigate the occurrence of intracolonial genetic variability in five scleractinian corals: Acropora florida, Acropora hyacinthus, Acropora sarmentosa, Pocillopora species complex and Porites australiensis. The main focus was to test different genera for the phenomenon via microsatellite markers and to distinguish which underlying process caused the genetic heterogeneity. Our results show that intracolonial genetic variability was common (between 46.6% for A. sarmentosa and 23.8% for P. species complex) in all tested corals. The main process was mosaicism (69 cases of 222 tested colonies), but at least one chimera existed in every species. This suggests that intracolonial genetic variability is widespread in scleractinian corals and could challenge the view of a coral colony as an individual and therefore a unit of selection. However, it might also hold potential for colony survival under rapidly changing environmental conditions.