A Multi-Character Analysis of the Caribbean Coral Montastraea Annularis (Ellis and Solander, 1786) and its Two Sibling Species, M. Faveolata (Ellis and Solander, 1786) and M. Franksi (Gregory, 1895)
Wide variability in colony morphology of Montastraea annularis has traditionally been viewed as a largely phenotypic response to variation in environmental conditions. This perspective is challenged, however, by the coexistence of discrete colony morphologies at the same sites, often with little evidence of intermediate forms. Differences among colony morphotypes in proteins, aggressive reactions, and corallite morphology define three broadly sympatric shallow-water species. We redescribe the species that corresponds to the type specimen of M. annularis and two previously synonymized species, M. faveolata and M. franksi. Montastraea franksi is distinguished by larger, unevenly arrayed polyps that give the colony its characteristic irregular surface. Colony form is variable, and the skeleton is dense with poorly developed annual bands. Montastraea faveolata grows in heads or sheets, the surface of which may be smooth or have keels or bumps. Septa are highly exsert, and the skeleton is much less dense than in the other two species. Montastraea annularis grows in columns that exhibit rapid and regular upward growth. In contrast to the other species, margins on the sides of columns are typically senescent. A dominance hierarchy characterizes short-term aggressive reactions and can be used to identify these species in the field; M. annularis is the least aggressive and M. franksi the most aggressive. The species overlap broadly at intermediate depths, although M. faveolata has the shallowest distribution and M. franksi the deepest. Montastraea faveolata is the most distinctive species biochemically. Substantial biological differences among the species require that they be distinguished in future studies.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 01 July 1994
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