Comparison of morphological and genetic analyses reveals cryptic divergence and morphological plasticity in Stylophora (Cnidaria, Scleractinia)
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- Stefani, F., Benzoni, F., Yang, SY. et al. Coral Reefs (2011) 30: 1033. doi:10.1007/s00338-011-0797-4
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A combined morphological and genetic study of the coral genus Stylophora investigated species boundaries in the Gulf of Aden, Yemen. Two mitochondrial regions, including the hypervariable IGS9 spacer and the control region, and a fragment of rDNA were used for phylogenetic analysis. Results were compared by multivariate analysis on the basis of branch morphology and corallite morphometry. Two species were clearly discriminated by both approaches. The first species was characterised by small corallites and a low morphological variability and was ascribed to a new geographical record of Stylophora madagascarensis on the basis of its phylogenetic distinction and its morphological similarity to the type material. The second species was characterised by larger corallite size and greater morphological variability and was ascribed to Stylophora pistillata. The analysis was extended to the intrageneric level for other S.pistillata populations from the Red Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Strong internal divergence was evident in the genus Stylophora. S. pistillata populations were split into two highly divergent Red Sea/Gulf of Aden and western Pacific lineages with significant morphological overlap, which suggests they represent two distinct cryptic species. The combined use of morphological and molecular approaches, so far proved to be a powerful tool for the re-delineation of species boundaries in corals, provided novel evidence of cryptic divergence in this group of marine metazoans.