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Keywords:

  • Australia ;
  • coral ;
  • cryptic species ;
  • evolution ;
  • fine-scale morphology ;
  • Great Barrier Reef ;
  • morphometric analysis ;
  • speciation ;
  • species boundaries ;
  • Unified Species Concept

Molecular studies have been instrumental for refining species boundaries in the coral genus Pocillopora and revealing hidden species diversity within the extensively studied global species Pocillopora damicornis. Here we formally revise the taxonomic status of species closely related to and within the P. damicornis species complex, taking into account both genetic evidence and new data on morphometrics, including fine-scale corallite and coenosteum structure. We found that mitochondrial molecular phylogenies are congruent with groups based on gross-morphology, therefore reflecting species-level differentiation. However, high levels of gross morphological plasticity and shared morphological characteristics mask clear separation for some groups. Fine-scale morphological variation, particularly the shape and type of columella, was useful for differentiating between clades and provides an excellent signature of the evolutionary relationships among genetic lineages. As introgressive hybridization and incomplete lineage sorting complicate the delineation of species within the genus on the basis of a single species concept, the Unified Species Concept may represent a suitable approach in revising Pocillopora taxonomy. Eight species are herein described (P. damicornis, P. acuta, P. aliciae, P. verrucosa, P. meandrina, P. eydouxi, P. cf. brevicornis), including a novel taxon – Pocillopora bairdi sp. nov. (Schmidt-Roach, this study). Citation synonyms and type materials are presented. © 2014 The Linnean Society of London