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Date of Original Version



Biological Sciences


Octocorals are conspicuous members of coral reefs and deep-sea ecosystems. Yet, species boundaries and taxonomic relationships within this group remain poorly understood, hindering our understanding of this essential component of the marine fauna. We used a multifaceted approach to revisit the systematics of the Caribbean octocorals Plexaura homomalla and Plexaura kükenthali, two taxa that have a long history of taxonomic revisions. We integrated morphological and reproductive analyses with high-throughput sequencing technology to clarify the relationship between these common gorgonians. Although size and shape of the sclerites are significantly different, there is overlap in the distributions making identification based on sclerites alone difficult. Differences in reproductive timing and mode of larval development were detected, suggesting possible mechanisms of pre-zygotic isolation. Furthermore, there are substantial genetic differences and clear separation of the two species in nuclear introns and single-nucleotide polymorphisms obtained from de novo assembled transcriptomes. Despite these differences, analyses with SNPs suggest that hybridization is still possible between the two groups. The two nascent species also differed in their symbiont communities (genus Breviolum) across multiple sampling sites in the Caribbean. Despite a complicated history of taxonomic revisions, our results support the differentiation of P. homomalla and P. kükenthali, emphasizing that integrative approaches are essential for Anthozoan systematics.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Coral Reefs

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.