Corallite wall and septal microstructure in scleractinian reef corals: Comparison of molecular clades within the family Faviidae

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Abstract

Recent molecular phylogenies conflict with traditional scleractinian classification at ranks ranging from suborder to genus, challenging morphologists to discover new characters that better agree with molecular data. Such characters are essential for including fossils in analyses and tracing evolutionary patterns through geologic time. We examine the skeletal morphology of 36 species belonging to the traditional families Faviidae, Merulinidae, Pectiniidae, and Trachyphylliidae (3 Atlantic, 14 Indo-Pacific, 2 cosmopolitan genera) at the macromorphological, micromorphological, and microstructural levels. Molecular analyses indicate that the families are not monophyletic groups, but consist of six family-level clades, four of which are examined [clade XV = Diploastrea heliopora; clade XVI = Montastraea cavernosa; clade XVII (“Pacific faviids”) = Pacific faviids (part) + merulinids (part) + pectiniids (part) + M. annularis complex; clade XXI (“Atlantic faviids”) = Atlantic faviids (part) + Atlantic mussids].

Comparisons among molecular clades indicate that micromorphological and microstructural characters (singly and in combination) are clade diagnostic, but with two exceptions, macromorphologic characters are not. The septal teeth of “Atlantic faviids” are paddle-shaped (strong secondary calcification axes) or blocky, whereas the septal teeth of “Pacific faviids” are spine-shaped or multidirectional. Corallite walls in “Atlantic faviids” are usually septothecal, with occasional trabeculothecal elements; whereas corallite walls in “Pacific faviids” are usually trabeculothecal or parathecal or they contain abortive septa. Exceptions include subclades of “Pacific faviids” consisting of a) Caulastraea and Oulophyllia (strong secondary axes) and b) Cyphastrea (septothecal walls). Diploastrea has a diagnostic synapticulothecal wall and thick triangular teeth; Montastraea cavernosa is also distinct, possessing both “Pacific faviid” (abortive septa) and “Atlantic faviid” (paddle-shaped teeth) attributes. The development of secondary axes is similar in traditional Atlantic faviids and mussids, supporting molecular results placing them in the same clade. Subclades of “Pacific faviids” reveal differences in wall structure and the arrangement and distinctiveness of centers of rapid accretion. J. Morphol. 272:66–88, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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