Population Genetics of a Clonal Gorgonian: Research Fellowship in Marine Biotechnology
Mary Alice Coffroth Principal Investigator
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Clonal growth is a common reproductive strategy among sessile marine invertebrates. Although the pervasiveness of this strategy implies success, the relative contribution of asexual versus sexual reproduction to long term population dynamics in invertebrates has rarely been quantified. This fellowship research will pursue the use of molecular genetic techniques to determine the genetic diversity and population structure of the clonal gorgonian, Plexaura sp. Differentiation of genotypes will be attempted using DNA fingerprinting to characterize the clonal structure of the population. These data on population structure will be used to deduce the long term effects of clonal reproduction on the population. The relatedness of different populations and species will be measured by examining DNA sequence variation and restriction fragment length polymorphisms of mitochondrial DNA. The adaptation of these techniques for use with gorgonians will allow the quantification of the relative importance of sexual and asexual reproduction; the extent of larval dispersal between reefs and populations; the relationship between phenotypic and genotypic variation; and the systematics of the genus. The training in molecular genetic techniques will provide Dr. Coffroth with the ability to apply these techniques to other marine systems and other questions in biological oceanography.