Genetic Relationships Within and Between Clonal and Solitary Forms of the Sea Anemone Anthopleura Elegantissima Revisited: Evidence for the Existence of Two Species

Student Co-author

HMC Undergraduate

Document Type



Biology (HMC)

Publication Date



Along the temperate Pacific coast of North America, the actiniarian sea anemone Anthopleura elegantissima exhibits two discrete life-history phenotypes. Although both forms sexually produce planula larvae, the clonal morph can also asexually propagate by fission, whereas the solitary morph does not. Whether the two forms constitute one or two species has long been contested. Hand originally designated the two forms as conspecifics, whereas Francis – on the basis of differences in microhabitat, biogeographic range and phenotypic frequencies – argued that the two forms constituted a sibling-species pair. From the results of an electrophoretic survey in which they pooled allelic frequencies across several geographic locations, Smith and Potts subsequently argued that the two forms were not genetically differentiated, and therefore represented a single species. We re-examined the relationship between the forms electrophoretically, substantially extending the geographic range and doubling the sample sizes beyond those used by Smith and Potts, and not pooling allelic frequencies in our analyses. Our analysis of patterns of genetic variation at ten highly polymorphic allozyme loci shows that although no fixed genetic differences distinguish the two forms, there are significant differences in allele frequencies between clonal and solitary A.␣elegantissima at every site we sampled throughout their range of sympatry (over 1000 km); within each form, however, there is little detectable genetic differentiation among populations. We therefore conclude that the two forms represent recently reproductively isolated taxa, and propose that the clonal form retain the binomial A. elegantissima (Brandt, 1835), whereas the solitary form be described and named a new species, Anthopleura sp.

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© 1997 Springer-Verlag