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Extensive sympatry, cryptic diversity and introgression throughout the geographic distribution of two coral species complexes


Jason T. Ladner, Fax: 831-655-6215; E-mail:


The identification of species is one of the most basic, and yet critically important, issues in biology with far-reaching potential implications for fields such as biodiversity conservation, population ecology and epidemiology. Morphology has long been the primary tool biologists have used to categorize life. However, we now know that a significant portion of natural diversity is morphologically hidden, and therefore, we must integrate nonmorphological tools into the description of biodiversity. Here, we demonstrate the utility of multilocus population genetic data for identifying and characterizing cryptic species complexes, even when species share large amounts of genetic variability. Specifically, we have used DNA sequence data from 12 genomic regions to characterize two widespread species complexes in the coral genus Acropora: A. cytherea and A. hyacinthus. These two morphospecies have each been sampled from 5 to 7 locations throughout their Indo-Pacific distributions, and with the use of structure and hierarchical clustering, we demonstrate the presence of at least six widespread cryptic species within these two morphospecies complexes. After identifying cryptic lineages, we then utilize the genetic data to examine the history of introgressive hybridization within and between these morphospecies complexes. Our data indicate that these two complexes form a global syngameon with consistent patterns of introgression between species across large geographic distributions.

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