Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 265–290 | Cite as

Polymorphism in a common Atlantic reef coral (Montastraea cavernosa) and its long-term evolutionary implications

  • Ann F. Budd
  • Flavia L. D. Nunes
  • Ernesto Weil
  • John M. Pandolfi
Original Paper


Recent advances in morphometrics and genetics have led to the discovery of numerous cryptic species in coral reef ecosystems. A prime example is the Montastraea annularis scleractinian coral species complex, in which morphological, genetic, and reproductive data concur on species boundaries, allowing evaluation of long-term patterns of speciation and evolutionary innovation. Here we test for cryptic species in the Atlantic species, Montastraea cavernosa, long recognized as polymorphic. Our modern samples consist of 94 colonies collected at four locations (Belize, Panamá, Puerto Rico in the Caribbean; São Tomé in the Eastern Atlantic). Our fossil samples consist of 78 colonies from the Plio-Pleistocene of Costa Rica and Panamá. Landmark morphometric data were collected on thin sections of 46 modern and 78 fossil colonies. Mahalanobis distances between colonies were calculated using Bookstein coordinates, revealing two modern and four fossil morphotypes. The remaining 48 of the 94 modern colonies were assigned to morphotype using discriminant analysis of calical measurements. Cross-tabulation and multiple comparisons tests show no significant morphological differences among geographic locations or water depths. Patterns of variation within and among fossil morphotypes are similar to modern morphotypes. DNA sequence data were collected for two polymorphic nuclear loci -tub1 and β-tub2) on all 94 modern colonies. Haplotype networks show that both genes consist of two clades, but morphotypes are not associated with genetic clades. Genotype frequencies and two-locus genotype assignments indicate genetic exchange across clades, and ϕst values show no genetic differentiation between morphotypes at different locations. Taken together, our morphological and genetic results do not provide evidence for cryptic species in M. cavernosa, but indicate instead that this species has an unusually high degree of polymorphism over a wide geographic area and persisting for >25 million years (myr).


Cryptic species Reef coral Caribbean Geometric morphometrics β-tubulin Neogene 



We thank Myra Laird (University of Iowa) and Jonathan Lee (University of California, San Diego) for photography and measuring specimens, and Matthew Wortel (University of Iowa Geoscience Petrographic Facilities) for preparing thin sections. Diving assistance in Belize was provided by Claudia and Dan Miller. David Anderson assisted with specimen collection and morphological measurements in Puerto Rico. Nancy Knowlton and Richard Norris provided helpful comments and discussions. This research was supported by a grant from the US National Science Foundation Grant [DEB-0343208 to AFB], a doctoral fellowship from the Center of Marine Biodiversity and Conservation [to FN], the John Dove Isaacs Chair in Natural Philosophy [to N. Knowlton], the Department of Marine Sciences, University of Puerto Rico [to EW], and both the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the Smithsonian Institution’s Marine Science Network grants [to JMP].

Supplementary material

10682_2010_9460_MOESM1_ESM.doc (431 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 431 kb)
10682_2010_9460_MOESM2_ESM.jpg (1.5 mb)
Figure S1 (a) Phylogenetic trees based on β-tub1 inferred by neighbor-joining (left) and maximum parsimony (right) methods implemented in MEGA. Bootstrap support >0.50 isreported (branches with <0.50 support have been collapsed). Haplotype names are precededby their Clade assignment (A or B). (b) Phylogenetic trees based on β-tub2 inferred byneighbor-joining (left) and maximum parsimony (right) methods implemented in MEGA.Bootstrap support >0.50 is reported (branches with <0.50 support have 995 been collapsed). Haplotype names are preceded by their Clade assignment (C or D)(JPG 1927 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ann F. Budd
    • 1
  • Flavia L. D. Nunes
    • 2
    • 3
  • Ernesto Weil
    • 4
  • John M. Pandolfi
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of GeoscienceUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA
  2. 2.Center for Marine Biodiversity and ConservationScripps Institute of OceanographyLa JollaUSA
  3. 3.Observatoire des Sciences de l’Univers de RennesUniversité de Rennes 1RennesFrance
  4. 4.Department of Marine SciencesUniversity of Puerto RicoMayagüezUSA
  5. 5.Centre for Marine Science, School of Biological Sciences, and Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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