Types, topotypes and vouchers are the key to progress in coral taxonomy: Comment on Wepfer et al. (2020)

Bonito, Victor E., Baird, Andrew H., Bridge, Tom, Cowman, Peter F., and Fenner, Douglas (2021) Types, topotypes and vouchers are the key to progress in coral taxonomy: Comment on Wepfer et al. (2020). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 159. 107104.

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[Extract] Wepfer et al. (2020) use a molecular phylogenomic approach to show that the species richness of the coral genus Galaxea (Scleractinia: Euphyllidae) is greater than currently accepted. The study is impressive in its geographical scale and provides further evidence that the currently-accepted taxonomy of the Scleractinia is flawed. However, with a broader conceptual framework and a closer attention to accepted taxonomic practices, the authors could have made much greater progress towards resolving the systematics of the genus Galaxea. In particular, the decision to work within the Veron (2000) taxonomic framework despite its known flaws along with a failure to target topotypes (defined here as specimens from the type locality that also match the type morphologically) and to retain voucher specimens for most of their material seriously limits the value of the research.

To the credit of the authors, Wepfer et al. (2020) explicitly test the morphological species boundaries of Veron (2000) and find them largely incompatible with their molecular data. These results are not surprising given previous work on Galaxea fascicularis that Wepfer et al. (2020) highlight and are in line with numerous other recent papers that demonstrate that many “accepted” morpho-species concepts in scleractinian taxonomy are flawed (Kitahara et al., 2016). Thus, a clear priority now is to re-examine all the nominal species in a clade using an integrated framework where species boundaries and evolutionary relationships can be examined using multi-prong approaches that include molecules, morphology, and other lines of evidence. Good taxonomy is difficult and can be time-consuming, as the authors note, but it is much easier now than it used to be thanks to online resources such as the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and the increasing availability of both type specimens and original descriptions in online digital data repositories. Given the current state of flux in scleractinian taxonomy, any study of coral systematics should include two key steps to allow for a robust, expandable examination of the taxonomy of the targeted group: (1) assemble the necessary taxonomic materials and (2) identify, collect, and incorporate topotype specimens.

Item ID: 66869
Item Type: Article (Commentary)
ISSN: 1095-9513
Copyright Information: © 2021 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Date Deposited: 29 May 2022 23:29
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 18 ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT > 1805 Marine systems and management > 180504 Marine biodiversity @ 100%
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