The discovery of a population of elkhorn corals in the Central Pacific Ocean has important taxonomic implications, as this distinctive colony morphology was previously known only from the endemic and critically endangered Atlantic species Acropora palmata. Phylogenetic analyses confirmed that the Pacific elkhorn coral is genetically distant from A. palmata, and most likely represents a species previously synonymized with Acropora abrotanoides. The Pacific elkhorn coral is rare, and is of particular scientific interest because it represents one morphological extreme in the dominant genus of reef-building corals. The discovery of the Pacific elkhorn coral raises a number of important general issues in relation to biodiversity conservation, as this coral would not qualify for threatened species listing under current IUCN categories and criteria despite being demonstrably rare.
Keywords: Acropora; conservation; hybridization; IUCN; mtDNA; nucDNA; Pacific 'elkhorn' coral