The globally distributed coral species Pocillopora damicornis is known to release either sexual or asexual derived planula-larvae in various reef locations. Using microsatellite loci as markers, we documented the release of asexually derived chimeric larvae (CL), originating from mosaicked maternal colonies that were also chimeras, at Thai and Philippines reefs. The CL, each presenting different combinations of maternal genotypic constituents, create genetically-complex sets of asexual propagules. This novel mode of inheritance in corals challenges classical postulations of sexual/asexual reproduction traits, as asexual derived CL represent an alliance between genotypes that significantly sways the recruits' absolute fitness. This type of inherited chimerism, while enhancing intra-entity genetic heterogeneity, is an evolutionary tactic used to increase genetic-heterogeneity, primarily in new areas colonized by a limited number of larvae. Chimerism may also facilitate combat global change impacts by exhibiting adjustable genomic combinations of within-chimera traits that could withstand alterable environmental pressures, helping Pocillopora become a successful cosmopolitan species.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank Guy Paz for the graphic design and figure preparation. This study was supported by grants from the European Community INCO-DEV (REEFRES-510657), the Ministry of Science and Technology, Israel, the Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, France, by a project funded in partnership with NAF-IOLR and JNF-USA, and by AID-MERC (M33-001)
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