Taxonomic classification of the reef coral families Merulinidae, Montastraeidae, and Diploastraeidae (Cnidaria: Anthozoa: Scleractinia)

Danwei Huang, Francesca Benzoni, Hironobu Fukami, Nancy Knowlton, Nathan D. Smith, Ann F. Budd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

137 Scopus citations


Modern coral taxonomy has begun to resolve many long-standing problems in traditional systematics stemming from its reliance on skeletal macromorphology. By integrating examinations of colony, corallite, and subcorallite morphology with the molecular sequence data that have proliferated in the last decade, many taxa spread across the scleractinian tree of life have been incorporated into a rigorous classification underpinned by greater phylogenetic understanding. This monograph focuses on one of the most challenging clades recovered to date - its disarray epitomized by the informal name 'Bigmessidae'. This group of predominantly Indo-Pacific species previously comprised families Merulinidae, Faviidae, Pectiniidae, and Trachyphylliidae, but in a recent study these have been incorporated within Merulinidae. We studied 84 living merulinid species by examining morphological traits at three different scales of coral skeletal structure - macromorphology, micromorphology, and microstructure - to construct a morphological matrix comprising 44 characters. Data were analysed via maximum parsimony and also transformed onto a robust molecular phylogeny under the parsimony and maximum likelihood criteria. Comparisons amongst morphological character types suggest that although many characters at every scale are homoplastic, some to a greater extent than others, several can aid in distinguishing genus-level clades. Our resulting trees and character analyses form the basis of a revised classification that spans a total of 139 species contained within 24 genera. The tree topologies necessitate the synonymization of Barabattoia as Dipsastraea, and Phymastrea as Favites. Furthermore, Astrea and Coelastrea are resurrected, and one new genus, Paramontastraea Huang & Budd gen. nov., is described. All the genera in Merulinidae, along with the monotypic Montastraeidae and Diploastraeidae, are diagnosed based on the characters examined. The integrative classification system proposed here will form the framework for more accurate biodiversity estimates and guide the taxonomic placement of extinct species. © 2014 The Linnean Society of London.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-355
Number of pages79
JournalZoological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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