Characterizing population structure of coral-associated fauna from mesophotic and shallow habitats in the Caribbean
Symbiotic relationships are a common phenomenon among marine invertebrates, forming both obligatory and facultative dependencies with their host. Here, we investigate and compare the population structure of two crustacean species associated with both shallow and mesophotic ecosystems: an obligate symbiont barnacle (Ceratoconcha domingensis), of the coral Agaricia lamarcki and a meiobenthic, free-living harpacticoid copepod (Laophontella armata). Molecular analyses of the Cytochrome Oxidase Subunit I (COI) gene revealed no population structure between mesophotic and shallow barnacle populations within south-west Puerto Rico (ΦST = 0.0079, P = 0.33). The absence of population structure was expected due to the pelagic naupliar larvae of the barnacles and the connectivity patterns exhibited by the coral itself within the same region. Laophontella armata exhibited significant structure based on the mitochondrial COI gene between the mesophotic reef ecosystem of El Seco, Puerto Rico and mangrove sediments of Curaçao (ΦST = 0.2804, P = 0.0). The El Seco and Curaçao copepods shared three COI haplotypes despite the obligatory benthic development of harpacticoid copepods and the geographic distance between the two locations. Three other COI haplotypes from El Seco exhibited higher than expected (up to 7%) intra-species variability, potentially representing three new cryptic species of harpacticoid copepods or rare, deeply divergent lineages of L. armata. This result is evidence for the urgent need of a deeper investigation into the meiofauna diversity associated with mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs), arguably the most diverse metazoan component of MCEs.