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Published in: Coral Reefs, Vol. 30, 2011


We examined the genetic variation of the corallimorpharian Ricordea florida; it is distributed throughout the Caribbean region and is heavily harvested for the marine aquarium trade. Eighty-four distinct individuals of R. florida were sequenced from four geographically distant Caribbean locations (Curaçao, Florida, Guadeloupe, and Puerto Rico). Analysis of the ribosomal nuclear region (ITS1, 5.8S, ITS2) uncovered two geographically partially overlapping genetic lineages in R. florida, probably representing two cryptic species. Lineage 1 was found in Florida and Puerto Rico, and Lineage 2 was found in Florida, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, and Curaçao. Because of the multi-allelic nature of the ITS region, four individuals from Lineage 1 and six from Lineage 2 were cloned to evaluate the levels of hidden intra-individual variability. Pairwise genetic comparisons indicated that the levels of intra-individual and intra-lineage variability (<1%) were approximately an order of magnitude lower than the divergence (~9%) observed between the two lineages. The fishery regulations of the aquarium trade regard R. florida as one species. More refined regulations should take into account the presence of two genetic lineages, and they should be managed separately in order to preserve the long-term evolutionary potential of this corallimorpharian. The discovery of two distinct lineages in R. florida illustrates the importance of evaluating genetic variability in harvested species prior to the implementation of management policies.