Population structure and dispersal of the coral- excavating sponge Cliona delitrix
Some excavating sponges of the genus Cliona compete with live reef corals, often kill- ing and bioeroding entire colonies. Important aspects affecting distribution of these species, such as dispersal capability and population structure, remain largely unknown. Thus, the aim of this study was to determine levels of genetic connectivity and dispersal of Cliona delitrix across the Greater Caribbean (Caribbean Sea, Bahamas and Florida), to understand current patterns and possible future trends in their distri- bution and effects on coral reefs. Using ten species-specific microsatellite markers, we found high levels of genetic differentiation between six genetically distinct popula- tions: one in the Atlantic (Florida-Bahamas), one specific to Florida and four in the South Caribbean Sea. In Florida, two independent breeding populations are likely separated by depth. Gene flow and ecological dispersal occur among other popula- tions in the Florida reef tract, and between some Florida locations and the Bahamas. Similarly, gene flow occurs between populations in the South Caribbean Sea, but appears restricted between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic (Florida-Bahamas). Dispersal of C. delitrix was farther than expected for a marine sponge and favoured in areas where currents are strong enough to transport sponge eggs or larvae over longer distances. Our results support the influence of ocean current patterns on genetic connectivity, and constitute a baseline to monitor future C. delitrix trends under climate change.