The peculiar case of Porites spumosa Lamarck, 1816

Author: Andrew Baird

Species: Porites spumosa Lamarck, 1816

Porites spumosa was described by Lamarck in 1816. In his original description, he refers to a drawing in Knorr (1772; Plate 1A, Fig. 4; reproduced in Fig. 1c in present article). Lamarck (1816) also describes details of the specimen that are not apparent in the drawing, so it is likely that he had the specimen, or something similar, to examine in the flesh.

The Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) has a specimen of Porites spumosa (catalogue number: IK-2014-1575) that is labelled as the “type?” (Fig. 1a). However, it is clear that this specimen (Fig. 1b) is not the specimen in Knorr’s Plate 1A Fig. 4 (Fig. 1c in present article), a fact noted by Bernard (1897) in his interpretation of the species. Bernard (1897) also moved Porites spumosa into the genus Montipora where it has stayed ever since. However, it is also fairly clear from Knorr’s drawing that the specimen is not a Montipora: the corallites are plocoid and taller than any Montipora I am familiar with. Indeed, it looks like a Pocillopora with numerous verrucae covered with small corallites (Fig. 1c).

Figure 1. Porites spumosa Lamarck 1816 (a) labels associated with specimen IK-2014-1575; (b) specimen IK-2014-1575; (c) Figure 4 from Knorr, 1766 Plate 1A.

Veron and Wallace (1984) dismiss Bernard’s interpretation, and state that “the specimen” photographed as representative of the species in Bernard 1897 is Montipora mollis Bernard, 1897. Bernard (1897) actually included photographs of two specimens (Plate VIII Fig. 1 and Plate XL) and while it is very difficult to determine the species from the photographs, they do look like two different species. Veron and Wallace (1984) accept that the specimen in the MNHN IK-2014-1575 is the holotype, and recognise Montipora spumosa (Lamarck 1816) as valid. It seems unlikely that they examined Knorr’s drawing. They further synonymised two other species with M. spumosaM. guppyi Bernard, 1897 and M. coalita Nemenzo, 1967 (see text below). All rather peculiar…

“The holotype of M. guppyi (BMNH 1884-11-2 1-37) is a plate-like corallum of M. spumosa; his [Bernard 1897] figured M. spumosa is M. mollis. Nemenzo’s M. coalita appears also to fall within the range of variation of M. spumosa”

What is one to do with this name and its synonyms? The specimen registered with the label “type?” is not the type. The specimen illustrated by Knorr is almost certainly a Pocillopora suggesting that Montipora spumosa (Lamarck, 1816) should be changed to Pocillopora spumosa (Lamarck, 1816) and the status of Porites spumosa should probably be taxon inquirendrum just in case the correct type turns up and can be examined more thoroughly. Currently, there is a genome associated with the name Montipora spumosa which makes this matter even more important.

Project Phoenix thank Professor Bert Hoeksema for his advice on the peculiar case of Porites spumosa and also for his constant and ready willingness to share his deep knowledge of taxonomic issues and for the wonderful work he does to maintain the scleractinian section of WoRMS.

Literature cited

Bernard HM (1897) The genus Montipora; the genus Anacropora. Catalogue of the Madreporarian Corals in the British Museum (Natural History) 3:1-192, pls. 191-

Knorr GW (1766) Deliciae Naturae Selectae. Nurnberg https://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/deliciaenaturae00knor

Lamarck JB (1816) Histoire naturelle des Animaux sans Vertèbre, Paris.

Veron, JEN, Wallace, CC (1984) Scleractinia of Eastern Australia – Part V. Family Acroporidae. Australian Institute of Marine Science Monograph Series 6: 1–485.

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