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Examination of the Montastraea annularis Species Complex (Cnidaria: Scleractinia) Using ITS and COI Sequences

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The Caribbean coral Montastraea annularis has recently been proposed to be a complex of at least three sibling species. To test the validity of this proposal, we sequenced the ITS region of the nuclear ribosomal RNA gene family (ITS-1, 5.8S, and ITS-2), and a portion of the mitochondrial DNA gene cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) from the three proposed species (M. annularis, M. faveolata, and M. franksi) from Florida reefs. The ITS fragment was 665 nucleotides long and had 19 variable sites, of which 6 were parsimony-informative sites. None of these sites was fixed within the proposed species. The COI fragment was 658 nucleotides long with only two sites variable in one individual. Thus, under both the biological species concept and the phylogenetic species concept, the molecular evidence gathered in this study indicates the Montastraea annularis species complex to be a single evolutionary entity as opposed to three distinct species. The three proposed Montastraea species can interbreed, ruling out prezygotic barriers to gene flow (biological species concept), and the criterion of monophyly is not satisfied if hybridization is occurring among taxa (phylogenetic species concept).

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Received January 20, 1998; accepted September 30, 1998.

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Medina, M., Weil, E. & Szmant, A. Examination of the Montastraea annularis Species Complex (Cnidaria: Scleractinia) Using ITS and COI Sequences. Mar. Biotechnol. 1, 89–97 (1999).

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