Genetic connectivity among regional populations of red tree corals (Primnoa pacifica) in the North Pacific Ocean

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Knowledge of the degree to which populations are connected through larval dispersal is imperative to effective management, yet little is known about larval dispersal capability or population connectivity in Primnoa pacifica, an important habitat forming octocoral on the outer continental shelf and upper slope in the Gulf of Alaska. Red tree corals can reach massive size (up to 5m height and 7m width), and often form dense thickets in some areas of the North Pacific Ocean, but their exact location is largely unknown and can often only be inferred from spatially imprecise sources such as fisheries by-catch data. Owing to their large size and slow growth rates (Andrews et al., 2002; Stone et al., 2005), red tree corals are highly susceptible to disturbance from fishing activities and are likely slow to recover from such disturbance.

This study aims to determine the spatial scale and pattern of genetic connectivity across a large portion of the range of P. pacifica in the GOA. These data will provide important and timely insights regarding population sensitivity and the capability of this dominant benthic habitat-forming species to recover from disturbance and to recolonize areas disturbed by human activities.

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Operate remote vehicle sampling

Dr. Cheryl Morrison directs remotely operated vehicle sampling of Primnoa pacifica in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.   

Image courtesy of Dann Blackwood, the Deepwater Exploration of Glacier Bay National Park expedition.

(Credit: Dann Blackwood, USGS Woods Hole. Public domain.)

Red tree corals

Large colonies of red tree corals (Primnoa pacifica) in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.    Image courtesy of the Deepwater Exploration of Glacier Bay National Park expedition and UCONN-NURTEC.

(Public domain.)

Recover remote operated vehicle

Members of the remotely operated vehicle Kraken2 recover the vehicle after a successful dive, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.  

Image courtesy of Dann Blackwood, the Deepwater Exploration of Glacier Bay National Park expedition.

(Credit: Dann Blackwood, USGS Woods Hole. Public domain.)