Author(s): Lopez JV
Analyses of DNA have not been widely used to distinguish coral sibling species. The three members of the Montastraea annularis complex represent an important test case: they are widely studied and dominate Caribbean reefs, yet their taxonomic status remains unclear. Analysis of amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs) and a microsatellite locus, using DNA from sperm, showed that Montastraea faveolata is genetically distinct. One AFLP primer yielded a diagnostic product (880 bp in M. faveolata 920 bp in M. franksi and M. annularis) whose homology was established by DNA sequencing. A second primer revealed a 630 bp band that was fixed in M. faveolata, and rare in M. franksi and M. annularis; in this case homologies were confirmed by Southern hybridizations. A tetranucleotide microsatellite locus with several alleles exhibited strong frequency differences between M. faveolata and the other two taxa. We did not detect comparable differences between M. annularis and M. franksi with either AFLPs (12 primers screened) or the microsatellite locus. Comparisons of AFLP patterns obtained from DNA from sperm, somatic tissues, and zooxanthellae suggest that the technique routinely amplifies coral (animal) DNA. Thus analyses based on somatic tissues may be feasible, particularly after diagnostic differences have been established using sperm DNA.