School of Earth, Environmental, and Marine Sciences Faculty Publications and Presentations

Hiding in plain sight: invasive coral Tubastraea tagusensis (Scleractinia:Hexacorallia) in the Gulf of Mexico

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Our research presents the first record of Tubastraea tagusensis (Wells, Notes on Indo-Pacific scleractinian corals. Part 9. New corals from the Galápagos Islands, 1982) in the Gulf of Mexico. Specimens of Tubastraea were collected from various artificial reefs. Morphological analyses of these specimens show that there are three distinct lineages of Tubastraea that have remained cryptic due to similar morphology in the field: Tubastraea coccinea (Lesson, 1829), T. tagusensis, and a third clade containing a mix of characters of the former two. These results based on morphology are corroborated by phylogenetic and haplotype analyses using a partial sequence of the mitochondrial genes ATP8 and cytochrome oxidase I (mtCOI). The negative effects on natural habitats by invasive species of Tubastraea have been documented worldwide. Therefore, it is imperative to implement management policies that will help prevent the expansion of these species into natural habitats in the Gulf of Mexico. The essential first step is accurate identification to determine possible sources, vectors, and current expansion rates. We present a clear set of morphological characters and a genetic marker to help distinguish between these three cryptic lineages.


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Coral Reefs