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Hybridization and the Evolution of Reef Coral Diversity

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Science  14 Jun 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5575, pp. 2023-2025
DOI: 10.1126/science.1069524

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Abstract

Hundreds of coral species coexist sympatrically on reefs, reproducing in mass-spawning events where hybridization appears common. In the Caribbean, DNA sequence data from all three sympatricAcropora corals show that mass spawning does not erode species barriers. Species A. cervicornis and A. palmata are distinct at two nuclear loci or share ancestral alleles. Morphotypes historically given the name Acropora prolifera are entirely F1 hybrids of these two species, showing morphologies that depend on which species provides the egg for hybridization. Although selection limits the evolutionary potential of hybrids, F1 individuals can reproduce asexually and form long-lived, potentially immortal hybrids with unique morphologies.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: svollmer{at}oeb.harvard.edu

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