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, 3 (9), e3222

Mitochondrial and Nuclear Genes Suggest That Stony Corals Are Monophyletic but Most Families of Stony Corals Are Not (Order Scleractinia, Class Anthozoa, Phylum Cnidaria)


Mitochondrial and Nuclear Genes Suggest That Stony Corals Are Monophyletic but Most Families of Stony Corals Are Not (Order Scleractinia, Class Anthozoa, Phylum Cnidaria)

Hironobu Fukami et al. PLoS One.


Modern hard corals (Class Hexacorallia; Order Scleractinia) are widely studied because of their fundamental role in reef building and their superb fossil record extending back to the Triassic. Nevertheless, interpretations of their evolutionary relationships have been in flux for over a decade. Recent analyses undermine the legitimacy of traditional suborders, families and genera, and suggest that a non-skeletal sister clade (Order Corallimorpharia) might be imbedded within the stony corals. However, these studies either sampled a relatively limited array of taxa or assembled trees from heterogeneous data sets. Here we provide a more comprehensive analysis of Scleractinia (127 species, 75 genera, 17 families) and various outgroups, based on two mitochondrial genes (cytochrome oxidase I, cytochrome b), with analyses of nuclear genes (ss-tubulin, ribosomal DNA) of a subset of taxa to test unexpected relationships. Eleven of 16 families were found to be polyphyletic. Strikingly, over one third of all families as conventionally defined contain representatives from the highly divergent "robust" and "complex" clades. However, the recent suggestion that corallimorpharians are true corals that have lost their skeletons was not upheld. Relationships were supported not only by mitochondrial and nuclear genes, but also often by morphological characters which had been ignored or never noted previously. The concordance of molecular characters and more carefully examined morphological characters suggests a future of greater taxonomic stability, as well as the potential to trace the evolutionary history of this ecologically important group using fossils.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Phylogenetic relationships among scleractinian (mostly zooxanthellate) corals and outgroups.
Topology was inferred by Bayesian analysis, based on combined mitochondrial cox1 and cob DNA sequences. Numbers on main branches show percentages of Bayesian probability (>70%) and bootstrap values (>50%) in ML analysis. Dashes mean bootstrap values <50% in ML. Numbers in circles show the connection of trees from A to D; for example, 1′ in circle continues directly from 1 in circle. Bars in black indicate possible new family level groupings (see also Supporting Online Information Table 2). Numbers (1, 2) following species names indicate that different colonies of the species had different haplotypes. A. outgroups, B. complex corals and corallimorpharians, C. the family Pocilloporidae, D. robust corals. ACR: Acroporidae, AGA: Agariciidae, AST: Astrocoeniidae, DEN: Dendrophylliidae, EUP: Euphylliidae, FAV: Faviidae, FCY: Fungiacyathidae, FUN: Fungiidae, MEA: Meandrinidae, MER: Merulinidae, MUS: Mussidae, PEC: Pectiniidae, POC: Pocilloporidae, POR: Poritidae, OCU: Oculinidae, SID: Siderastreidae, TRC: Trachyphylliidae.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Bayesian tree based on the tubulin gene for a subset of corals shown in Fig. 1.
Letter (a, b) after species names indicates that different alleles were obtained from a single coral sample; see Fig. 1 legend for other labeling conventions. A. Phylogenetic relationships among complex corals and some robust corals. B. Phylogenetic relationships within robust corals. Note that the same data for the Montastraea cavernosa clade (in box) were used in both trees.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Bayesian tree based on the rDNA gene for a subset of the scleractinian corals analyzed in Fig. 1.
Labeling conventions as in previous figures.

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