Coral Reefs

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 269–283 | Cite as

Diversity of zoantharian species and their symbionts from the Macaronesian and Cape Verde ecoregions demonstrates their widespread distribution in the Atlantic Ocean

  • Cataixa LópezEmail author
  • James D. Reimer
  • Alberto Brito
  • David Simón
  • Sabrina Clemente
  • Mariano Hernández


Zooxanthellate zoantharians (Cnidaria: Anthozoa) are commonly found in tropical and subtropical marine regions around the world. However, due to the low genetic variability of commonly used DNA markers combined with high levels of intraspecific morphological variation, misidentifications and species synonyms are commonly found in the literature. In this study, zoantharians from the suborder Brachycnemina collected in the Macaronesia and Cape Verde ecoregions were studied combining morphological, molecular and ecological data, in order to comprehensively assess the species diversity of the region. Moreover, molecular analyses of endosymbiotic Symbiodiniaceae zooxanthellae were also performed to provide more information on each holobiont. Our integrative results demonstrate that Brachycnemina species diversity increases as seawater temperature rises toward the tropics with a total of nine species recorded: one from waters around northern Madeira, five in the Canary Islands and seven in the southernmost Cape Verde Archipelago. All species were seen to host either Symbiodiniaceae of the genera Symbiodinium (former Symbiodinium ‘Clade A’) or Cladocopium (former Symbiodinium ‘Clade C’). Moreover, this study records for the first time the presence of Palythoa grandis, P. aff. clavata, P. grandiflora, an unknown Zoanthus species and Z. pulchellus in the East Atlantic Ocean. These results show no endemic zooxanthellate zoantharians in the East Atlantic, with all species shared with the West Atlantic.


Macaronesia Molecular analyses Morphological analyses Zoantharian distribution Symbiodinium Cladocopium 



We are grateful to the MISE laboratory at the University of the Ryukyus, especially to K Soong, H Kise, P Biondi and G Masucci. We thank R Freitas (University of Cape Verde) and P Wirtz (University of Algarve, Portugal) for providing specimens. We thank photographer R Herrero for providing us pictures of P. aff. clavata and Isaurus tuberculatus. CL was co-funded by the Canarian Agency for Research, Innovation and Information Society of the Ministry of Economy, Industry, Trade and Knowledge and by the European Social Fund (ESF) integrated operational program of the Canary Islands 2014–2020. The research was supported by Programa Mecenazgo Alumni of the University of La Laguna (2014 and 2015). JDR was funded by JSPS Kiban B Grant entitled ‘Global evolution of Brachycnemina and their Symbiodinium.

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Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 30 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (PNG 230 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de Biología Animal, Edafología y Geología, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad de La LagunaLa LagunaSpain
  2. 2.Molecular Invertebrate Systematics and Ecology Laboratory, Graduate School of Engineering and ScienceUniversity of the RyukyusNishiharaJapan
  3. 3.Tropical Biosphere Research CenterUniversity of the RyukyusNishiharaJapan
  4. 4.Departamento de Bioquímica, Microbiología, Biología Celular y Genética, Facultad de Ciencias, Instituto Universitario de Enfermedades Tropicales y Salud Pública de CanariasUniversidad de La LagunaLa LagunaSpain

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