Marine Biology

, Volume 147, Issue 2, pp 497–508 | Cite as

Molecular evidence for multiple lineages in the gorgonian family Plexauridae (Anthozoa: Octocorallia)

  • H. H. Wirshing
  • C. G. Messing
  • C. J. Douady
  • J. Reed
  • M. J. Stanhope
  • M. S. Shivji
Research Article


Octocorals are diverse and abundant on many marine hard substrates, and, within this group, members of the family Plexauridae are an important component of tropical reef assemblages, especially in the Caribbean. To understand historical relationships within this large and diverse assemblage, and to test the monophyly of the family and some of its genera, DNA sequences of two mitochondrial loci (msh1 and ND2, ~1,185 bp) were analyzed from 46 species in 21 genera from deep and shallow waters in the tropical western Atlantic and in the tropical western and eastern Pacific (plus 9 taxa in the closely related Gorgoniidae and 1 species of the more distantly related Alcyoniidae). Five strongly supported clades were recovered. Three large clades correspond roughly to the Plexauridae, Paramuriceidae, and Gorgoniidae, and two smaller clades were comprised of taxa previously assigned to several families. Astrogorgia sp. did not group with any of the clades. The mutual relationships among the five clades remain unclear. Several genera previously regarded as unrelated appear to be grouped among the three “families”; e.g. Hypnogorgia sp. (Paramuriceidae) falls within a clade consisting of both Pacific and Atlantic Muricea spp. (Plexauridae), while Swiftia sp., Scleracis sp., and an Atlantic Thesea sp. (all Paramuriceidae) group with the gorgoniids. In several instances, genera containing Atlantic and Pacific species were recovered as monophyletic (Muricea spp., Bebryce spp.). However, in at least three cases (Echinomuricea spp., Thesea spp., Villogorgia spp.), placement of Atlantic and Pacific species in the same genus may reflect convergence of sclerite morphology. The results indicate a strong need for reexamination of octocoral taxonomy using a combination of molecular, morphological, and chemical evidence.



This study was supported by funds from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Ocean Program (NA16OA2413) to the National Coral Reef Institute (NCRI), and by the Guy Harvey Research Institute, Nova Southeastern University. We thank M. Dore for assisting with SEM images and G. Williams (California Academy of Sciences) and G. Rouse (South Australian Museum, Adelaide) for their generous contributions of Pacific plexaurid and paramuriceid samples. This research complied with all laws of the United States of America.

Supplementary material

Table S1 Classifications of the family Plexauridae, Gray 1859

supp.pdf (200 kb)
(PDF 200 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. H. Wirshing
    • 1
  • C. G. Messing
    • 1
  • C. J. Douady
    • 2
    • 5
  • J. Reed
    • 3
  • M. J. Stanhope
    • 4
  • M. S. Shivji
    • 1
  1. 1.National Coral Reef Institute, Oceanographic CenterNova Southeastern UniversityDania BeachUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biochemistry and Molecular BiologyDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada
  3. 3.Division of Biomedical Marine ResearchHarbor Branch Oceanographic InstitutionFort PierceUSA
  4. 4.Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, College of Veterinary MedicineCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  5. 5.Equipe Hydrobiologie et Ecologie Souterraines, UMR 5023—Ecologie des Hydrosystèmes, Fluviaux, Bât. Forel (403)—La DouaUniversité Lyon ILyonFrance

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