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Curr Biol. 2014 Dec 15;24(24):2952-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.10.044. Epub 2014 Nov 26.

Multilocus adaptation associated with heat resistance in reef-building corals.

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Department of Biology, Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University, Pacific Grove, CA 93950, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Biology, Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University, Pacific Grove, CA 93950, USA.


The evolution of tolerance to future climate change depends on the standing stock of genetic variation for resistance to climate-related impacts, but genes contributing to climate tolerance in wild populations are poorly described in number and effect. Physiology and gene expression patterns have shown that corals living in naturally high-temperature microclimates are more resistant to bleaching because of both acclimation and fixed effects, including adaptation. To search for potential genetic correlates of these fixed effects, we genotyped 15,399 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 23 individual tabletop corals, Acropora hyacinthus, within a natural temperature mosaic in backreef lagoons on Ofu Island, American Samoa. Despite overall lack of population substructure, we identified 114 highly divergent SNPs as candidates for environmental selection, via multiple stringent outlier tests, and correlations with temperature. Corals from the warmest reef location had higher minor allele frequencies across these candidate SNPs, a pattern not seen for noncandidate loci. Furthermore, within backreef pools, colonies in the warmest microclimates had a higher number and frequency of alternative alleles at candidate loci. These data suggest mild selection for alternate alleles at many loci in these corals during high heat episodes and possible maintenance of extensive polymorphism through multilocus balancing selection in a heterogeneous environment. In this case, a natural population harbors a reservoir of alleles preadapted to high temperatures, suggesting potential for future evolutionary response to climate change.

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