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Mol Biol Evol. 2001 Jul;18(7):1315-29.

The evolutionary history of the coral genus Acropora (Scleractinia, Cnidaria) based on a mitochondrial and a nuclear marker: reticulation, incomplete lineage sorting, or morphological convergence?

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Biochemistry and Molecular Biolog, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia.


This study examines molecular relationships across a wide range of species in the mass spawning scleractinian coral genus Acropora. Molecular phylogenies were obtained for 28 species using DNA sequence analyses of two independent markers, a nuclear intron and the mtDNA putative control region. Although the compositions of the major clades in the phylogenies based on these two markers were similar, there were several important differences. This, in combination with the fact that many species were not monophyletic, suggests either that introgressive hybridization is occurring or that lineage sorting is incomplete. The molecular tree topologies bear little similarity to the results of a recent cladistic analysis based on skeletal morphology and are at odds with the fossil record. We hypothesize that these conflicting results may be due to the same morphology having evolved independently more than once in Acropora and/or the occurrence of extensive interspecific hybridization and introgression in combination with morphology being determined by a small number of genes. Our results indicate that many Acropora species belong to a species complex or syngameon and that morphology has little predictive value with regard to syngameon composition. Morphological species in the genus often do not correspond to genetically distinct evolutionary units. Instead, species that differ in timing of gamete release tend to constitute genetically distinct clades.

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