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The study stemmed from a collaborative effort between U.S. and Cuban scientists to study Cuba’s shallow and mesophotic reefs and their regional connectivity. On a joint research cruise in 2017, Voss led a team collecting samples of the coral Montastraea cavernosa from shallow (0-5 m) and a few mesophotic (30-150 m) colonies throughout the Cuban archipelago. These samples were then genotyped using nine microsatellite markers and a 2bRAD SNP genotyping approach that generated >9,000 SNPs. By implementing both of these molecular approaches, we were able to better characterize the population genetic structure of M. cavernosa in the region and compare the merits and drawbacks of both marker classes.
Both the microsatellite and the SNP datasets were able to identify significant levels of genetic differentiation among samples from the mesophotic population, Banco de San Antonio, and all other shallow sampling populations. Furthermore, the SNP dataset identified significant levels of genetic differentiation among most of the shallow sites and indicated that differentiation was highest between western and eastern coral populations in Cuba. From the SNP dataset, we were also able to identify a number of samples belonging to a unique genetic cluster. These samples were more commonly from the western populations where strong, oceanic currents dominate the hydrodynamic regime, perhaps connecting these populations to other reefs within the Tropical Western Atlantic region. We are continuing to generate SNP-based genetic datasets for other M. cavernosa populations in the region to evaluate regional metapopulation dynamics and to assess genetic connectivity between Cuba and other populations in the U.S., Mexico, and Belize.