We reveal the existence of a cryptic species of Acropora solitaryensis (Veron and Wallace, 1984), a dominant species in high-latitude coral communities. Although some morphs, such as arborescent table (AR), solid plate (PL), and intermediate (IM) forms, had been known in this species, it was unclear whether these are reproductively isolated from one another. Here, potential reproductive exchange between two representative morphs, AR and PL, were examined using genetic and reproductive methods. Molecular phylogenetic analyses using both mitochondrial and nuclear molecular markers (mitochondrial control region and mini-collagen intron, respectively) indicated that AR is clearly distinct from PL, suggesting that gene flow between the morphs is absent. In cross-fertilization experiments, gametic compatibility between AR and PL was extremely low, suggesting prezygotic isolation of these morphs. These results strongly suggest that AR and IM forms are variations of A. solitaryensis, whereas PL form may be an undescribed species. In addition, AR was closely related genetically to A. pruinosa, which is a high-latitude species with arborescent form, and AR and A. pruinosa were able to hybridize, although with lower fertilities than observed in intra-specific crosses. The two species are thus likely to have speciated not in tropical regions, but in non-reef regions due to habitat segregation.
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Vol. 29 • No. 2