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    Oceanographic features and limited dispersal shape the population genetic structure of the vase sponge Ircinia campana in the Greater Caribbean

    Griffiths, Sarah M ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4743-049X, Butler, Mark J, Behringer, Donald C, Pérez, Thierry and Preziosi, Richard F (2021) Oceanographic features and limited dispersal shape the population genetic structure of the vase sponge Ircinia campana in the Greater Caribbean. Heredity, 126 (1). pp. 63-76. ISSN 0018-067X

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    Understanding population genetic structure can help us to infer dispersal patterns, predict population resilience and design effective management strategies. For sessile species with limited dispersal, this is especially pertinent because genetic diversity and connectivity are key aspects of their resilience to environmental stressors. Here, we describe the population structure of Ircinia campana, a common Caribbean sponge subject to mass mortalities and disease. Microsatellites were used to genotype 440 individuals from 19 sites throughout the Greater Caribbean. We found strong genetic structure across the region, and significant isolation by distance across the Lesser Antilles, highlighting the influence of limited larval dispersal. We also observed spatial genetic structure patterns congruent with oceanography. This includes evidence of connectivity between sponges in the Florida Keys and the southeast coast of the United States (>700 km away) where the oceanographic environment is dominated by the strong Florida Current. Conversely, the population in southern Belize was strongly differentiated from all other sites, consistent with the presence of dispersal-limiting oceanographic features, including the Gulf of Honduras gyre. At smaller spatial scales (<100 km), sites showed heterogeneous patterns of low-level but significant genetic differentiation (chaotic genetic patchiness), indicative of temporal variability in recruitment or local selective pressures. Genetic diversity was similar across sites, but there was evidence of a genetic bottleneck at one site in Florida where past mass mortalities have occurred. These findings underscore the relationship between regional oceanography and weak larval dispersal in explaining population genetic patterns, and could inform conservation management of the species.

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