Global phylogenomic assessment of Leptoseris and Agaricia reveals substantial undescribed diversity at mesophotic depths

J. C. Gijsbers*, N. Englebert, K. E. Prata, M. Pichon, Z. Dinesen, R. Brunner, G. Eyal, F. L. González-Zapata, S. E. Kahng, K. R.W. Latijnhouwers, P. Muir, V. Z. Radice, J. A. Sánchez, M. J.A. Vermeij, O. Hoegh-Guldberg, S. J. Jacobs, P. Bongaerts*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Mesophotic coral communities are increasingly gaining attention for the unique biological diversity they host, exemplified by the numerous mesophotic fish species that continue to be discovered. In contrast, many of the photosynthetic scleractinian corals observed at mesophotic depths are assumed to be depth-generalists, with very few species characterised as mesophotic-specialists. This presumed lack of a specialised community remains largely untested, as phylogenetic studies on corals have rarely included mesophotic samples and have long suffered from resolution issues associated with traditional sequence markers. Results: Here, we used reduced-representation genome sequencing to conduct a phylogenomic assessment of the two dominant mesophotic genera of plating corals in the Indo-Pacific and Western Atlantic, respectively, Leptoseris and Agaricia. While these genome-wide phylogenies broadly corroborated the morphological taxonomy, they also exposed deep divergences within the two genera and undescribed diversity across the current taxonomic species. Five of the eight focal species consisted of at least two sympatric and genetically distinct lineages, which were consistently detected across different methods. Conclusions: The repeated observation of genetically divergent lineages associated with mesophotic depths highlights that there may be many more mesophotic-specialist coral species than currently acknowledged and that an urgent assessment of this largely unstudied biological diversity is warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Article number147
JournalBMC Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Biodiversity
  • Depth-differentiation
  • Mesophotic
  • Phylogenetics
  • Scleractinia


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