Tropical and subtropical shallow benthic marine communities are highly diverse and balanced systems that constitute an important natural resource. Knowledge of the genetic diversity, connectivity and reproduction mode of each population is critical to understanding the fate of whole assemblages in times of disturbances. Importantly, the capability of populations to adapt to environmental challenges will be crucial to determining their survival. Here, we report on the population structure of the common reef zoantharian Zoanthus sansibaricus in the northwestern Pacific, by examining populations at three different locations in southern Japan using five highly variable microsatellite markers. Analyses of a population at the species’ northern distribution limit combined with analyses of two subtropical populations suggest that habitat characteristics and ocean currents influence the connectivity and genetic diversity of this species. Our findings emphasize the adaptive ability of Z. sansibaricus to different environmental conditions and may help explain the wide distribution and generalist nature of this species.
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