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Genome Biol Evol. 2014 May;6(5):1086-95. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evu084.

Mitochondrial genome rearrangements in the scleractinia/corallimorpharia complex: implications for coral phylogeny.

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Biodiversity Research Center, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan.


Corallimorpharia is a small Order of skeleton-less animals that is closely related to the reef-building corals (Scleractinia) and of fundamental interest in the context of understanding the potential impacts of climate change in the future on coral reefs. The relationship between the nominal Orders Corallimorpharia and Scleractinia is controversial-the former is either the closest outgroup to the Scleractinia or alternatively is derived from corals via skeleton loss. This latter scenario, the "naked coral" hypothesis, is strongly supported by analyses based on mitochondrial (mt) protein sequences, whereas the former is equally strongly supported by analyses of mt nucleotide sequences. The "naked coral" hypothesis seeks to link skeleton loss in the putative ancestor of corallimorpharians with a period of elevated oceanic CO2 during the Cretaceous, leading to the idea that these skeleton-less animals may be harbingers for the fate of coral reefs under global climate change. In an attempt to better understand their evolutionary relationships, we examined mt genome organization in a representative range (12 species, representing 3 of the 4 extant families) of corallimorpharians and compared these patterns with other Hexacorallia. The most surprising finding was that mt genome organization in Corallimorphus profundus, a deep-water species that is the most scleractinian-like of all corallimorpharians on the basis of morphology, was much more similar to the common scleractinian pattern than to those of other corallimorpharians. This finding is consistent with the idea that C. profundus represents a key position in the coral <-> corallimorpharian transition.


coral evolution; gene order; mitochondrial genome; naked coral hypothesis

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