DNA barcoding of xeniid soft corals (Octocorallia: Alcyonacea: Xeniidae) from Indonesia: species richness and phylogenetic relationships

<div><p>We conducted the first ever survey of xeniid octocorals in the Indonesian Archipelago, centre of the highly biodiverse Coral Triangle region of the Indo-Pacific. Among 48 xeniid specimens collected from Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi, we identified 26 morphospecies belonging to six genera based on assessment of the morphological characters traditionally used for xeniid taxonomy. Multilocus DNA barcodes obtained from 23 morphospecies clustered into 21 molecular operational taxonomic units (MOTUs) separated by average genetic distance values >0.3%. The overall concordance between morphospecies and MOTUs was 91%; just one pair and one trio of morphospecies were not distinguished by the DNA barcodes. A molecular phylogenetic reconstruction of family Xeniidae based on four loci (<i>COI, mtMutS, ND2</i>, 28S rDNA) supported the distinction of <i>Anthelia</i> and <i>Cespitularia+Efflatounaria</i> from all other xeniid genera. Although the remaining genera for which molecular data were available (<i>Asterospicularia, Heteroxenia, Ovabunda, Sansibia, Sarcothelia, Sympodium, Xenia</i>) belonged to a single, well-supported clade, the phylogenetic relationships among them were poorly resolved. Species of <i>Xenia</i> were distributed among three different sub-clades within which they were paraphyletic with <i>Ovabunda</i> (clade X1), <i>Heteroxenia</i> (clade X2) and <i>Sansibia</i> plus <i>Sarcothelia</i> (clade X3). No morphological characters have yet been identified that differentiate these three phylogenetically distinct clades of <i>Xenia</i>. Use of molecular barcodes to discriminate species will facilitate future ecological studies of Xeniidae, a group that has been shown to opportunistically monopolize disturbed reef habitat. </p></div>