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© 2015, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. Pocillopora corals, the dominant reef-builders in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, exhibit a high level of phenotypic plasticity, making the interpretation of morphological variation and the identification of species challenging. To test the hypothesis that different coral morphospecies represent phenotypes that develop in different flow conditions, we compared branch characters in three Pocillopora morphospecies (P.damicornis, P. verrucosa, and P. meandrina) from two communities in the Gulf of California exposed to contrasting flow conditions. Morphological variation and branch modularity (i.e., the tendency of different sets of branch traits to vary in a coordinated way) were assessed in colonies classified as Pocillopora type 1 according to two mitochondrial regions. Our results can be summarized as follows. (1) Pocillopora type 1 morphospecies corresponded to a pattern of morphological variation in the Gulf of California. Overall, P.damicornis had the thinnest branches and its colonies the highest branch density, followed by P.verrucosa, and then by P.meandrina, which had the thickest branches and its colonies the lowest branch density. (2) The differentiation among morphospecies was promoted by different levels of modularity of traits. P.verrucosa had the highest coordination of traits, followed by P.damicornis, and P.meandrina. (3) The variation and modularity of branch traits were related to water flow condition. Morphology under the high-flow condition was more similar among morphospecies than under the low-flow condition and seemed to be related to mechanisms for coping with these conditions. Our results provide the first evidence that in scleractinian corals different levels of modularity can be promoted by different environmental conditions.

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