The DNA of coral reef biodiversity: Predicting and protecting genetic diversity of reef assemblages

Hawai’i Reef Connectivity Consortium

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Conservation of ecological communities requires deepening our understanding of genetic diversity patterns and drivers at community-wide scales. Here, we use seascape genetic analysis of a diversity metric, allelic richness (AR), for 47 reef species sampled across 13 Hawaiian Islands to empirically demonstrate that large reefs high in coral cover harbour the greatest genetic diversity on average. We found that a species’s life history (e.g. depth range and herbivory) mediates response of genetic diversity to seascape drivers in logical ways. Furthermore, a metric of combined multi-species AR showed strong coupling to species richness and habitat area, quality and stability that few species showed individually. We hypothesize that macro-ecological forces and species interactions, by mediating species turnover and occupancy (and thus a site’s mean effective population size), influence the aggregate genetic diversity of a site, potentially allowing it to behave as an apparent emergent trait that is shaped by the dominant seascape drivers. The results highlight inherent feedbacks between ecology and genetics, raise concern that genetic resilience of entire reef communities is compromised by factors that reduce coral cover or available habitat, including thermal stress, and provide a foundation for new strategies for monitoring and preserving biodiversity of entire reef ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20160354
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1829
StatePublished - Apr 27 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Coral reefs
  • Ecosystem-based management
  • Landscape genetics
  • Population genetics
  • Resilience
  • Seascape genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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