Molecular Phylogenetic Analyses of Shallow-Water Caribbean Octocorals

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Biology (HMC)

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Octocorals, especially gorgonians, are conspicuous on Caribbean coral reefs, but there is no consensus regarding species relationships. Mitochondrial protein-coding genes [NADH-dehydrogenase subunits 2 (ND2) and 6 (ND6), and mutS homolog (msh1), 1633 bp] from 28 shallow-water species were sequenced to develop the first molecular phylogeny for Caribbean octocorals. The specimens were collected primarily in the Caribbean or off Brazil in 1999–2001. Morphological characters (sclerites and axial ultrastructure) were also examined in order to map them onto the molecular phylogeny. Analyses of both nucleotide and amino acid substitutions using maximum parsimony and likelihood (including maximum-likelihood and Bayesian analysis) generated very similar results, with most nodes having high levels of support. These molecular results were significantly different from the generally accepted classification. Neither Plexauridae nor Gorgoniidae were monophyletic. Plexaurella spp., nominal plexaurids, were basal to the gorgoniids, sharing many morphological characters with them. This corroborates previous findings using secondary metabolites and biosynthetic pathways. The sea fans, Gorgonia spp. and Pacifigorgia spp., as well as the pinnate gorgonians, Muriceopsis flavida and Pseudopterogorgia spp., did not have sea fan or pinnate relatives, suggesting there has been convergent evolution of colony form. Caribbean plexaurids appeared more derived and/or recently evolved according to both morphological and molecular data (e.g. Eunicea spp. and Plexaura spp.). Molecular phylogenetics is a promising approach for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships among octocorals as well as to understand their complex morphology.

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© 2003 Springer-Verlag