While shallow water red coral populations have been overharvested in the past, nowadays, commercial harvesting shifted its pressure on mesophotic organisms. An understanding of red coral population structure, particularly larval dispersal patterns and connectivity among harvested populations is paramount to the viability of the species. In order to determine patterns of genetic spatial structuring of deep water Corallium rubrum populations, for the first time, colonies found between 58-118 m depth within the Tyrrhenian Sea were collected and analyzed. Ten microsatellite loci and two regions of mitochondrial DNA (mtMSH and mtC) were used to quantify patterns of genetic diversity within populations and to define population structuring at spatial scales from tens of metres to hundreds of kilometres. Microsatellites showed heterozygote deficiencies in all populations. Significant levels of genetic differentiation were observed at all investigated spatial scales, suggesting that populations are likely to be isolated. This differentiation may by the results of biological interactions, occurring within a small spatial scale and/or abiotic factors acting at a larger scale. Mitochondrial markers revealed significant genetic structuring at spatial scales greater then 100 km showing the occurrence of a barrier to gene flow between northern and southern Tyrrhenian populations. These findings provide support for the establishment of marine protected areas in the deep sea and off-shore reefs, in order to effectively maintain genetic diversity of mesophotic red coral populations.
Octocorallia (Soft Corals)
Italy - Tyrrhenian Sea