Uncovering hidden coral diversity: a new cryptic lobophylliid scleractinian from the Indian Ocean

Roberto Arrigoni, Michael L. Berumen, Jaroslaw Stolarski, Tullia Isotta Terraneo, Francesca Benzoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Extant biodiversity can easily be underestimated owing to the presence of cryptic taxa, even among commonly observed species. Scleractinian corals are challenging to identify because of their ecophenotypic variation and morphological plasticity. In addition, molecular analyses have revealed the occurrence of cryptic speciation. Here, we describe a new cryptic lobophylliid genus and species Paraechinophyllia variabilis gen. nov., sp. nov., which is morphologically similar to Echinophyllia aspera and E. orpheensis. The new taxon occurs in Mayotte Island, Madagascar, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Six molecular markers (COI, 12S, ATP6-NAD4, NAD3-NAD5, histone H3 and ITS) and 46 morphological characters at three different levels (macromorphology, micromorphology and microstructure) were examined. The resulting molecular phylogenetic reconstruction showed that Paraechinophyllia gen. nov. represents a distinct group within the Lobophylliidae that diverged from the lineage leading to Echinophyllia and Oxypora in the Early Miocene, approximately 21.5 Ma. The morphological phylogenetic reconstruction clustered Paraechinophyllia gen. nov., Echinophyllia and Oxypora together in a single clade. A sole morphological character, calice relief, discriminated Paraechinophyllia gen. nov. from the latter two genera, suggesting that limited morphological variation has occurred over a long period. These results highlight the importance of cryptic taxa in reef corals, with implications for population genetics, ecological studies and conservation.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-328
Number of pages28
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 21 2018

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledged KAUST grant number(s): URF/1/1389-01-01, FCC/1/1973-07
Acknowledgements: This project was supported by funding from KAUST (award # URF/1/1389-01-01, FCC/1/1973-07, and baseline research funds to M.L.B.). This research was undertaken in accordance with the policies and procedures of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). Permissions relevant for KAUST to undertake the research have been obtained from the applicable governmental agencies in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We wish to thank the captain and crew of the MV Dream Master, the KAUST Coastal and Marine Resources Core Lab, and A. Gusti (KAUST) for fieldwork logistics in the Red Sea. We thank J. M. Reimer (University of Ryukyus), M. Oliverio (Sapienza University) and D. Maggioni (UNIMIB) for fruitful discussions about cryptic taxa and CAOS. We are also grateful to E. Dutrieux, C. H. Chaineau (Total SA), R. Hirst, M. Abdul Aziz (YLNG) and M. Pichon (MTQ) for allowing and supporting research in Yemen. We are grateful to E. Karsenti (EMBL), E. Bougois (Tara Expeditions), and the OCEANS Consortium for allowing sampling during the Tara Oceans expedition in Mayotte. We are grateful for the commitment of the following people and additional sponsors who made this singular expedition possible: CNRS, EMBL, Genoscope/CEA, VIB, Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, UNIMIB, ANR (projects POSEIDON/ANR-09-BLAN-0348, BIOMARKS/ANR-08-BDVA-003, PROMETHEUS/ANR-09-GENM-031 and TARA-GIRUS/ANR-09-PCS-GENM-218), EU FP7 (MicroB3/No.287589), FWO, BIO5, Biosphere 2, agnès b., the Veolia Environment Foundation, Region Bretagne, World Courier, Illumina, Cap L'Orient, the EDF Foundation EDF Diversiterre, FRB, the Prince Albert II de Monaco Foundation, Etienne Bourgois, the Tara schooner, and its captain and crew. Tara Oceans would not exist without continuous support from 23 institutes (http://oceans.taraexpeditions.org). This article is contribution number 73 of the Tara Oceans Expedition 2009–2012. New Caledonia data and specimens were obtained during the IRD CORALCAL4 (https://doi.org/10.17600/12100060), BIBELOT (https://doi.org/10.17600/14003700) and CORALCAL5 (https://doi.org/10.17600/15004300) expeditions on the RV Alis. Material from Madagascar was collected during the MAD (https://doi.org/10.17600/16004700) expedition on the RV Antea. We are grateful to the captain and crew; to the chief scientist H. Magalon (ULR) for her great efforts to make the expedition possible, for specimen export permits, and for the invitation to join the MAD; and to C. Payri (IRD) for supporting travel and scientific discussion. The Madang expedition specimens were obtained during the “Our Planet Reviewed” Papua Niugini expedition (https://doi.org/10.17600/12100070) organized by Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (MNHN), Pro Natura International (PNI), Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), and University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG), with Principal Investigators Philippe Bouchet, Claude Payri, and Sarah Samadi. The organisers acknowledge funding from the Total Foundation, Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Fondation EDF, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, and Entrepose Contracting, and in-kind support from the Divine Word University (DWU). We thank BW Hoeksema (Naturalis), AH Baird (ARC), M Hoogenboom (JCU), Y Zayasu (OIST), ZT Richards (WAM), and DP Thomson (CSIRO) for specimens of Lobophylliidae. We are deeply grateful to the editor and four anonymous referees for their comments which greatly improved the manuscript.


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