Author: Andrew Baird
The SS Yongala is a world famous dive, known especially for the extraordinary fish life it supports, including large schools of giant trevally and barracuda and a couple of monstrous Queensland groupers. The Yongala is not so well known for its scleractinian corals, being a little too deep to support the abundance of corals typical of shallow reefs on the Great Barrier Reef. So, I was a bit surprised during a recent dive to find that the wreck supports an unusual and diverse assemblage of scleractinian corals, including a number of species rarely encountered on the Great Barrier Reef such as Micromussa lordhowensis (Veron & Pichon 1982) and Pseudosiderastrea tayamai (Yabe & Sugiyama 1935).
Of particular interest to me were a number of species of the Genus Alveopora, at least one of which is potentially new to science. The Alveopora are special for a number of reasons. They are beautiful animals, with long flowing polyps that waft gently in the surge.
They are also rare and often cryptic. The genus is also interesting taxonomically because its correct place in the order Scleractinia has long been debated. Most authors, including the last revision of the genus (Veron and Pichon 1982), place the Alveopora in the Family Poritidae. However, recent molecular and morphological work suggest the genus is sister to the Montipora in the Family Acroporidae (Richards et al. 2020). The Alveopora are also hermaphrodites, like all species in the family Acroporidae and unlike most species in the family Poritidae. Therefore, the weight of evidence definitely supports their position in the Acroporidae. The Alveopora is also one of the few genera with some species that brood larvae and other species that broadcast spawn their gametes (Baird et al. 2009); most other genera do one or the other. The species level taxonomy of the genus also needs to be revisited: there are approximately 32 nominal species only 16 of which are currently accepted.
I suspect that there are many more species that have yet to be described. In addition, many of the synonymies, based on qualitative morphological characters, are likely to be incorrect. Definitely a suitable taxa for further investigation by Project Phoenix!
Baird AH, Guest JR, Willis BL (2009) Systematic and biogeographical patterns in the reproductive biology of scleractinian corals. Annu Rev Ecol, Evol Syst 40:551-571
Richards ZT, Carvajal JI, Wallace CC, Wilson NG (2020) Phylotranscriptomics confirms Alveopora is sister to Montipora within the family Acroporidae. Marine Genomics 50
Veron JEN, Pichon M (1982) Scleractinia of Eastern Australia. Part IV. Family Poritidae. Australian National University Press, Canberra