Variable skeletal morphology, genotype induced plasticity, and homoplasy of skeletal structures have presented major challenges for scleractinian coral taxonomy and systematics since the 18th century. Although the recent integration of genetic and micromorphological data is helping to clarify the taxonomic confusion within the order, phylogenetic relationships and species delimitation within most coral genera are still far from settled. In the present study, the species boundaries in the scleractinian coral genus Goniopora were investigated using 199 colonies from the Saudi Arabian Red Sea and sequencing of four molecular markers: the mitochondrial intergenic spacer between CytB and NAD2, the nuclear ribosomal ITS region, and two single-copy nuclear genes (ATPsβ and CalM). DNA sequence data were analyzed using a variety of methods and exploratory species-delimitation tools. The results were broadly congruent in identifying five distinct molecular lineages within the sequenced Goniopora samples: G. somaliensis/G. savignyi, G. djiboutiensis/G. lobata, G. stokesi, G. albiconus/G. tenuidens, and G. minor/G. gracilis. Although the traditional macromorphological characters used to identify these nine morphospecies were not able to discriminate the obtained molecular clades, informative micromorphological and microstructural features (such as the micro-ornamentation and the arrangement of the columella) were recovered among the five lineages. Moreover, unique in vivo morphologies were associated with the genetic-delimited lineages, further supporting the molecular findings. This study represents the first attempt to identify species boundaries within Goniopora using a combined morpho-molecular approach. The obtained data establish a basis for future taxonomic revision of the genus, which should include colonies across its entire geographical distribution in the Indo-Pacific.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology