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The highly cross-fertile coral species, Acropora hyacinthus and Acropora cytherea, constitute statistically distinguishable lineages


Luis M. Márquez. Present address: Centro de Ecología, Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientícas, Apartado 21827, Caracas-1020, Venezuela. Fax: +58 212 504 1088; E-mail:


A major challenge for understanding the evolutionary genetics of mass-spawning corals is to explain the maintenance of discrete morphospecies in view of high rates of interspecific fertilization in vitro and nonmonophyletic patterns in molecular phylogenies. In this study, we focused on Acropora cytherea and A. hyacinthus, which have one of the highest potentials for interspecific fertilization. Using sequences of a nuclear intron, we performed phylogenetic and nested clade analyses (NCA). Both species were polyphyletic in molecular phylogenies, but the NCA indicated that they constitute statistically distinguishable lineages. Phylogenetic analysis using an intergenic region of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), was inconclusive because of low levels of variability in this marker. The position of these two species differed between the nuclear DNA (nDNA) and mtDNA phylogenies and was also at odds with a cladistic analysis based on morphology. We conclude that despite the potential for high levels of hybridization and introgression, A. cytherea and A. hyacinthus constitute statistically distinguishable lineages and their taxonomic status is consistent with the cohesion species concept.