Assessing the Drivers of Genetic Diversity On Coral Reefs

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The Bay Lab logo designed by Robert Dellinger.

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In the Anthropocene, coral reefs face major losses due to a myriad of threats both locally and globally. Genetic diversity among corals provides a buffer from stressors by serving as the raw material for adaptation. However, there are few studies incorporating large-scale surveys between and across species. Thus assessing abiotic and biotic factors that influence genetic diversity in corals crucial for coral reef recovery.  

I currently work with the Bay Lab led by Dr. Rachael Bay, which uses an array of ecological, physiological, large-scale genomic techniques alongside environmental data in order to investigate the effects of climate change on coral reefs. I attend weekly reading group meetings where faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates take turns in leading the group through chosen readings pertaining to different fields that make up the various lenses of coral reef ecological research.

 

We progressed into compiling a global database of genetic diversity with an estimated 3500 microsatellites from the Acropora genus, the largest coral genus. Preliminary analyses revealed that the variables with the strongest correlation to genetic diversity are pH and species’ upper depth limit. Additionally, we found that Acropora palmata, a key reef building coral in the Caribbean, has an unexpectedly high genetic diversity, the highest of any Acroporid species. Our findings suggest that evidence for species-specific genetic diversity exists, and that environmental stressors may influence Acroporids genetic diversity. We communicated our findings at the Western Society of Naturalist Conference (2020) and UC Davis Undergraduate Research Conference (2021) via a talk presentation.