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Conventional taxonomy obscures deep divergence between Pacific and Atlantic corals


Only 17% of 111 reef-building coral genera and none of the 18 coral families with reef-builders are considered endemic to the Atlantic, whereas the corresponding percentages for the Indo-west Pacific are 76% and 39%1,2. These figures depend on the assumption that genera and families spanning the two provinces belong to the same lineages (that is, they are monophyletic). Here we show that this assumption is incorrect on the basis of analyses of mitochondrial and nuclear genes. Pervasive morphological convergence at the family level has obscured the evolutionary distinctiveness of Atlantic corals. Some Atlantic genera conventionally assigned to different families are more closely related to each other than they are to their respective Pacific ‘congeners’. Nine of the 27 genera of reef-building Atlantic corals belong to this previously unrecognized lineage, which probably diverged over 34 million years ago. Although Pacific reefs have larger numbers of more narrowly distributed species, and therefore rank higher in biodiversity hotspot analyses3, the deep evolutionary distinctiveness of many Atlantic corals should also be considered when setting conservation priorities.

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Figure 1: Phylogenies for corals in the suborder Faviina and related families (Oculinidae, Meandrinidae).
Figure 2: Illustrations of wall structures based on thin sections.


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We thank J. Jara, E. Gomez, M. Hatta and staff of the Palau International Coral Reef Center for their assistance in the field and laboratory, and J. Jackson and R. Grosberg for comments on the manuscript. Financial support came from the National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the Conselho Nacional de Pesquisas (CNPq). Authors' contributions. H.F. performed the collections and genetic analyses, A.F.B. the morphological and palaeontological interpretations, C.A.C. the coral molecular systematics and collections in Taiwan, G.P. the coral systematics and collections in Palau, A.S.-C. the molecular systematics and collections in Brazil, K.I. the collections in Okinawa, and N.K. the coral systematics, financial/logistic support and manuscript preparation.

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Correspondence to Nancy Knowlton.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information 1

List of the species analyzed in this study and location of coral skeletons (in laboratories of respective authors). For photos of these corals, send requests to corresponding author. (DOC 32 kb)

Supplementary Information 2

50% majority-rule consensus tree of the first 10000 equally maximum-parsimonious trees inferred from MP analysis using 305 bp of the 5’-end of the nuclear 28S rRNA gene (primers from Romano and Cairns5). DNA sequences are available in DDBJ (Accession Nos. AB126702-AB126751). (PDF 1648 kb)

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Fukami, H., Budd, A., Paulay, G. et al. Conventional taxonomy obscures deep divergence between Pacific and Atlantic corals. Nature 427, 832–835 (2004).

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