Corals in the Arabian/Persian Gulf (PAG) survive extreme sea temperatures (summer mean: >34C), and it is unclear whether these corals have genetically adapted or physiologically acclimated to these conditions. In order to elucidate the processes involved in the thermal tolerance of PAG corals, it is essential to understand the connectivity between reefs within and outside of the PAG. To this end, this study set out to investigate the genetic structure of the coral, Platygyra daedalea, and its symbiotic algae in the PAG and neighbouring Gulf of Oman. Using nuclear markers (the ITS region and an intron of the Pax-C gene), this study demonstrates genetic divergence of P. daedalea on reefs within the thermally extreme PAG compared with those in the neighbouring Gulf of Oman. Isolation by distance of P. daedalea was supported by the ITS dataset but not the Pax-C intron. In addition, the symbiont community within the PAG was dominated by C3 symbionts, while the purportedly thermotolerant clade D was extremely rare and was common only at sites outside of the PAG. Analysis of the psbAncr indicates that the C3 variant hosted by P. daedalea in the PAG belongs to the newly described species, Symbiodinium thermophilum. The structuring of the coral and symbiont populations suggests that both partners of the symbiosis may contribute to the high bleaching thresholds of PAG corals. While limited gene flow has likely played a role in local adaptation within the PAG, it also indicates limited potential for natural export of thermal tolerance traits to reefs elsewhere in the Indian Ocean threatened by climate change.
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