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Molecular phylogenetic evidence indicates that the octocoral family Alcyoniidae is highly polyphyletic, with genera distributed across Octocorallia in more than 10 separate clades. Most alcyoniid taxa belong to the large and poorly resolved Holaxonia–Alcyoniina clade of octocorals, but members of at least four genera of Alcyoniidae fall outside of that group. As a first step towards revision of the family, we describe a new genus, Parasphaerasclera gen. n., and family, Parasphaerascleridae fam. n., of Alcyonacea to accommodate species of Eleutherobia Pütter, 1900 and Alcyonium Linnaeus, 1758 that have digitiform to digitate or lobate growth forms, completely lack sclerites in the polyps, and have radiates or spheroidal sclerites in the colony surface and interior. Parasphaerascleridae fam. n. constitutes a well-supported clade that is phylogenetically distinct from all other octocoral taxa. We also describe a new genus of Alcyoniidae, Sphaerasclera gen. n., for a species of Eleutherobia with a unique capitate growth form. Sphaerasclera gen. n. is a member of the Anthomastus–Corallium clade of octocorals, but is morphologically and genetically distinct from Anthomastus Verrill, 1878 and Paraminabea Williams & Alderslade, 1999, two similar but dimorphic genera of Alcyoniidae that are its sister taxa. In addition, we have re-assigned two species of Eleutherobia that have clavate to capitate growth forms, polyp sclerites arranged to form a collaret and points, and spindles in the colony interior to Alcyonium, a move that is supported by both morphological and molecular phylogenetic evidence


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© 2013 Catherine S. McFadden. Posted with permission.

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