Should I stay or should I go? The role of dispersal in the ecology and evolution of reef corals


***Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Redfield Auditorium - 12:00 Noon
Dr. Iliana Baums
Assistant Professor
Department of Biology
Penn State

Dispersal of larvae via ocean currents is a common strategy among sessile marine organisms and so spatially discontinuous populations maintain a shared gene pool. Long-lived reef building corals employ such strategies to connect their shallow-water populations across stretches of inhospitable open-ocean. Increasing seawater temperatures are predicted to quicken larval development so that average dispersal distances are expected to decrease. Recent development of coupled genetic and biophysical models now allows us to assess the importance of such dispersal processes in shaping population structure of benthic marine organisms. However, intra-species variation in response to increased temperature  exists, most notably in the form of differential mortality among coral genotypes. We thus set out to measure the effect of high and low seawater temperatures on early life stages with varied genetic backgrounds. Using genetic and genomic tools, we show that individuals and populations within species differ in their abilities to respond to changing environmental conditions during larval development, adding an additional layer of complication for predicting changes in connectivity patterns as a result of global warming.