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Keywords:

  • hybridization;
  • introgression;
  • reticulate evolution;
  • Scleractinia;
  • species boundaries;
  • species concepts

Abstract

Hybridisation between coral species clearly occurs in vitro, but the evolutionary significance of this cross-fertility is still the subject of much debate. Compelling genetic and reproductive evidence support introgressive hybridization amongst Indo-Pacific members of the scleractinian genus Acropora. Although population genetic analyses indicate that interspecific hybridization events are relatively rare, they are likely be important on evolutionary time scales, creating the capacity for adaptive evolution by increasing genomic diversity and heterozygosity. However, in a recent paper based exclusively on the three endemic Caribbean Acropora species, Vollmer and Palumbi (2002) dispute the occurrence of reticulation in corals. Here we use data from both the Vollmer and Palumbi study and our earlier paper on the same species (van Oppen et al., 2000) to show that reticulation has occurred amongst the Caribbean Acropora species. Furthermore, conclusions based on the limited Caribbean Acropora fauna cannot simply be extrapolated to Indo-Pacific corals, and it is inappropriate to view some coral species as ‘immortal mules’.