Investigating Species Boundaries within the Hard Coral Genus Goniopora (Cnidaria, Scleractinia) from the Red Sea Using an Integrative Morphomolecular Approach

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


In the present study the species boundaries of the scleractinian coral genus Goniopora from the Saudi Arabian Red Sea were investigated. An integrated morpho-molecular approach was used to better clarify the complex scenario derived from traditional classification efforts based on skeletal morphology. Traditional taxonomy of this genus considers skeletal morphology first and polyp morphology as a secondary discriminating character. This leads to potential complication due to plasticity in skeletal features within a species. To address this issue, molecular analyses of evolutionary relationships between nine traditional morphospecies of Goniopora from the Red Sea were performed and were used to re-evaluate the informativeness of macromorphological and micromorphological features. Between four and six putative molecular lineages were identified within Goniopora samples from the Saudi Arabian Red Sea on the basis of four molecular markers: the mitochondrial intergenic spacer between Cytochrome b and the NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2, the entire nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacer region, the ATP synthase subunit β gene, and a portion of the Calmodulin gene. The results were strongly corroborated by three distinct analyses of species delimitation. Subsequent analyses of micromorphological and microstructural skeletal features identified the presence of distinctive characters in each of the molecular clades. Unique in vivo morphologies were associated with the genetic-delimited lineages, further supporting the molecular findings. The proposed re-organization of Goniopora will resolve several taxonomic problems in this genus while reconciling molecular and morphological evidence. Reliable species-level identification of Goniopora spp. can be achieved with polyp morphology under the proposed revision.
Date of AwardDec 2015
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorMichael Berumen (Supervisor)


  • Species Delimination
  • Genetics
  • Sclaractinian Corals
  • Haploweb
  • Morphometry
  • Micromorphology

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