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Genotype – environment correlations in corals from the Great Barrier Reef

Petra Lundgren1*, Juan C Vera2, Lesa Peplow1, Stephanie Manel3 and Madeleine JH van Oppen1

Author affiliations

1 Australian Institute of Marine Science, PMB No 3, Townsville MC, QLD, 4810, Australia

2 Department of Biology, Penn State University, 208 Mueller Laboratory, University Park, PA, 16802, USA

3 IRD, UMR 151, Laboratoire Population Environnement et Développement (LPED), Université Aix-Marseille, Marseille, 13331, France

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Citation and License

BMC Genetics 2013, 14:9  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-14-9

Published: 22 February 2013



Knowledge of genetic markers that are correlated to stress tolerance may improve spatial mapping of reef vulnerability and can inform restoration efforts, including the choice of genotypes for breeding and reseeding. In this manuscript we present two methods for screening transcriptome data for candidate genetic markers in two reef building corals, Acropora millepora and Pocillopora damicornis (types α and β). In A. millepora, Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) were pre-selected by targeting genes believed to be involved in the coral thermal stress responses. In P. damicornis (type α and β), SNPs showing varying allele frequencies between two populations from distinct environments were pre-selected. Allele frequencies at nine, five and eight of the pre-selected SNP loci were correlated against gradients of water clarity and temperature in a large number of populations along the Great Barrier Reef.


A significant correlation between environmental category and SNP allele frequency was detected in up to 55% of the tested loci, which is an exceptional success rate for these types of tests. In P. damicornis, SNP allele frequencies of β-hexosaminidase and Elongation factor 1-α were significantly correlated to temperature in type α and to temperature and/or water clarity respectively in type β. Type α also showed a correlation between water clarity and SNP allele frequency in a gene of unknown function. In A. millepora, allele frequencies at five (β-gamma crystallin, Galaxin, Ubiquitin, Ligand of Numb X2 and Thioredoxin) SNP loci showed significant correlations.


After validation of these candidate loci through laboratory or field assessment of relative stress tolerance of colonies harbouring different alleles, it is anticipated that a proportion of these markers may represent the first coral candidate Quantitative Trait Loci for environmental stress tolerance and provide an important genetic tool that can be incorporated into spatial management decisions and restoration efforts of coral reefs. One pertinent example would be to combine spatial data of tolerant populations with genetic connectivity and thus identify high priority conservation reefs and implement targeted coral husbandry and active restoration efforts that use locally- and stress-adapted genotypes.

SNP; Pocillopora; Acropora; Coral; Transcriptome; Genotype-environment correlation