Biogeography, reproductive biology and phylogenetic divergence within the Fungiidae (mushroom corals)

Mila Grinblat, Ira Cooke, Tom Shlesinger, Or Ben-Zvi, Yossi Loya, David J. Miller, Peter F. Cowman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While the escalating impacts of climate change and other anthropogenic pressures on coral reefs are well documented at the coral community level, studies of species-specific trends are less common, owing mostly to the difficulties and uncertainties in delineating coral species. It has also become clear that traditional coral taxonomy based largely on skeletal macromorphology has underestimated the diversity of many coral families. Here, we use targeted enrichment methods to sequence 2476 ultraconserved elements (UCEs) and exonic loci to investigate the relationship between populations of Fungia fungites from Okinawa, Japan, where this species reproduces by brooding (i.e., internal fertilization), and Papua New Guinea and Australia, where it reproduces by broadcast-spawning (i.e., external fertilization). Moreover, we analyzed the relationships between populations of additional fungiid species (Herpolitha limax and Ctenactis spp.) that reproduce only by broadcast-spawning. Our phylogenetic and species delimitation analyses reveal strong biogeographic structuring in both F. fungites and Herpolitha limax, consistent with cryptic speciation in Okinawa in both species and additionally for H. limax in the Red Sea. By combining UCE/exon data and mitochondrial sequences captured in off-target reads, we reinforce earlier findings that Ctenactis, a genus consisting of three nominal morphospecies, is not a natural group. Our results highlight the need for taxonomic and systematic re-evaluations of some species and genera within the family Fungiidae. This work demonstrates that sequence data generated by the application of targeted capture methods can provide objective criteria by which we can test phylogenetic hypotheses based on morphological and/or life history traits.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107265
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Coral reproduction
  • Exon
  • Scleractinia
  • Species boundaries
  • Systematics
  • Ultraconserved elements

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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