Francesca Benzoni (1,2,4), Roberto Arrigoni (2), Fabrizio Stafani (2), Michel Pichon (3)
1. Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, UMR227 Coreus2,101 Promenade Roger Laroque, BP A5, 98848 Noumea Cedex, New Caledonia
2.Dept.of Biotechnology and Biosciences, University of Milano-Bicocca, Piazza della Scienza 2, 20126 Milan, Italy
3. Museum of tropical Queensland, Townsville 4810, Australia
Until coral molecular phylogenies were published, the genus Plesiastrea was traditionally part of the family Faviidae and considered by several authors to be closely related to the genus Montastraea. However, genetic data has shown that Plesiastrea versipora, the genus type species, is evolutionarily distinct within the Robust clade of the Scleractinia and does not belong to the large clade grouping most representatives of the families Faviidae, including Montastraea, Mussidae, Merulinidae, Trachyphylliidae, and Pectiniidae. Instead, P. versipora is closely related to non reef-dwelling taxa currently ascribed to the Oculinidae (Cyathelia axillaris) and Caryophylliidae (Trochocyathus efateensis). However, no discussion on the morphologic features of P. versipora compared to other taxa has been published yet. Moreover, no information is available about the phylogenetic placement of Plesiastrea devantieri, the only other species in the genus. The phylogeny of both Plesiastrea species was addressed through molecular analyses (COI and rDNA) and morphological analysis. Morphological differences between the two species included number of septa, cycles of vertical structures in front of the septa and septal micromorphology. On the basis of these data and nuclear and mitochondrial markers, P. devantieri belongs to the Faviidae-Merulinidae-Pectiniidae-Trachyphylliidae clade (Clade XVII sensu Fukami et al., 2008) and is most closely related to Goniastrea aspera and G. palauensis. The type species of the genus Goniastrea, G. retiformis, however, is not closely related to either G. aspera and G. palauensis, or to P. devantieri. Taxonomic implications of these findings and morphologic affinities between the two species and closely related taxa are discussed.