Cladopsammia manuelensis sensu Cairns, 2000 (Order: Scleractinia): a new distribution record for Hispaniola and Puerto Rico.
An unfamiliar looking azooxanthellate dendrophylliid coral, observed during shallow water (3-19 m) visual censuses since 2015 in Hispaniola and since 2019 in Puerto Rico, has been identified as Cladopsammia manuelensis sensu Cairns, 2000 (hereafter C. manuelensis). Genus assignment is based on morphological (e.g. large, widely separated and divergently oriented polyps that grow by extratentacular division, either near the base of another polyp or separated from others by a flattened coenenchyme) and genetic data (CO1 gene). We highlight the taxonomic uncertainty of the species affiliation of Cladopsammia manuelensis as well as the unresolved status of the closely related genera Cladopsammia, Rhizopsammia and Dendrophyllia. Typically found deeper (at 43-366 m) in the tropical-subtropical Atlantic Ocean and western Indian Ocean, C. manuelensis is also known to have increased in abundance in semi-cryptic habitats over the last decade at 4- 30 m in Curaçao and occurs in transects at 10 m in Aruba. The recent appearance of C. manuelensis at snorkel- SCUBA depths may represent an upward expansion of its bathymetric range and/or emergence from the cryptic habitats that abound on shallow reefs. Cladopsammia manuelensis superficially resembles, and genetically is relatively closely related to, three, highly invasive, semi-cryptic dendrophylliid Tubastraea species, and may show a similar ability to spread widely on tropical western Atlantic reefs.