The morphology of sessile invertebrates, such as scleractinian corals, can be controlled by environmental and genetic mechanisms and, consequently, it is highly variable. Morphological variation has puzzled taxonomists by posing challenges to species classification within cryptic species complexes. The 'Atlantic Siderastrea Complex' is a suitable example. Because of overlapping diagnostic traits, the morphological interspecific limits of this group remain controversial and often resulted in doubtful synonyms. In addition, the recent identification of the Caribbean S. radians in the Southwestern Atlantic has revealed that intraspecific variation has been equivocally assessed. Traditionally, hierarchical categories of variation have been the criteria used to investigate the patterns of modular organisms as corals. However, despite its taxonomic and ecological implications, the category 'intracolonial' has been largely neglected. To evaluate the influences of intracolonial morphological variation in the identification of Atlantic siderastreids, colonies from Bahia State, northeastern Brazil, were collected and measured. Six characters were selected in S. radians and S. stellata, and the variation in these characters was analyzed with Discriminant Canonical Analysis. The columellar depth and diameter varied consistently within S. stellata and S. radians, but the septal number was the most important for differentiating the two species. The results of the study also represent the first report of S. radians on the northern coast of Bahia.
systematics; Siderastrea radians; morphological variation; biogeographic expansion; South Atlantic