Hurricane-induced disturbance increases genetic diversity and population admixture of the direct-brooding isopod, Gnathia marleyi
Pagán, J. Andrés
Sikkel, Paul C.
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Severe disturbances can substantially alter eco-evolutionary processes and dynamics. While the impacts of catastrophic events on the biophysical attributes of communities are sometimes assessed, their effects on the genetic patterns of species remain poorly understood. To characterize how severe disturbances impact species at the molecular level, we examined the effects of the most energetic North Atlantic hurricane season in 50 years on the genetic diversity and structure of a dispersal-limited isopod, Gnathia marleyi. We sequenced a portion of the cytochrome oxidase I gene for 432 gnathiids, collected from six localities, ranging from western Puerto Rico to St John, US Virgin Islands. Importantly, multiple years of pre-hurricane sample collection allowed us to characterize temporal genetic patterns under undisturbed conditions and detect the changes subsequent to the 2017 hurricanes. Our results revealed no change to genetic diversity or structure for the years prior to the 2017 hurricanes, with genetic structure occurring at the local and regional levels, with three main clusters corresponding to Southwest Puerto Rico, East Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. However, directly following the 2017 hurricanes, genetic diversity increased at five of the six sampled localities. Additionally, we found a clear homogenizing effect prompted by increased shared genetic diversity among geographically distant regions and sites that resulted in substantially decreased among-region and among-site differentiation. Our work shows that severe disturbances caused by major tropical hurricanes facilitate gene-flow and increase overall genetic diversity and population admixture of dispersal limited coral reef species, potentially impacting the ecology and evolution of a key regional endemic