Complexum pusillum, Van Ofwegen, Leen P., Aurelle, Didier & Sartoretto, Stephane, 2014

Van Ofwegen, Leen P., Aurelle, Didier & Sartoretto, Stephane, 2014, A new genus of soft coral (Cnidaria, Octocorallia) from the Republic of Congo (Pointe-Noire Region), ZooKeys 462, pp. 1-10: 2-5

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Complexum pusillum

sp. n.

Taxon classification Animalia Alcyonacea Alcyoniidae

Complexum pusillum   sp. n. Figs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Type material.

Holotype: Congo, "Pointe Noire", Banc Mullet, 31.I. 2013, depth -10 m, 1 colony, (RMNH Coel. 41604); paratype: same data as holotype (RMNH Coel. 41605).


The holotype is a colony consisting of two lobes, 2 × 1.3 cm in diameter and 1 cm thick, encrusting rock (Fig. 2A). The polyps are completely withdrawn into the coenenchyme and calyces are not present.

The anthocodiae have a collaret composed of 2-3 rows of spindles. These spindles are up to 0.15 mm long, slightly bent, and have simple tubercles (Fig. 3B). The points have spindles similar to those of the collaret, 4-5 pairs per point. They are also up to 0.15 mm long, have simple tubercles and a slightly spiny distal end (Fig. 3A). The tentacles contain no sclerites.

The surface layer of the top of the colony has clubs, up to 0.35 mm long, with complex tubercles and spiny heads (Fig. 3 C–D). The interior has straight and bent spindles, up to 0.60 mm long, with simple or complex tubercles (Fig. 3E).

The base of the colony has spindles and ovals, up to 0.65 mm long, with simple or complex tubercles (Fig. 4).


The preserved holotype is white, and all sclerites are colourless.


From the Latin, pusil, tiny, referring to the small size of the colonies.


The paratype is a single lobe-like colony (Fig. 1B). The sclerites are similar to those of the holotype.


In the studied area, coastal waters show a general high turbidity due to the input of sediment and detrital and humic materials by the Congo River in the south and the Kouilou River in the north, as well as a high primary productivity in the ocean. As a consequence muddy bottoms dominate on the continental shelf ( Giresse 1980). Nevertheless, shallow, cretacean, calcareous banks emerge among them, at a depth of between 5 and 20 m ( Giresse and Kouyoumontzakis 1973). These rocky banks constitute large, thin slabs (no more 1.5 m high) sometimes exposed to high hydrodynamics due to the swell, tides and the occurrence of complex exchanges of water bodies up to 80 m deep ( Moroschkin et al. 1970; Piton 1988). Alcyonium pusillum   sp. n. colonizes these shallow rocky banks, mainly in cryptic positions (under overhangs and in large holes) forming small white patches (< 1 m²) easily distinguishable by SCUBA divers (Fig. 5A, B). On these hard bottoms, the associated fauna is mainly composed of gorgonians ( Eunicella   , Leptogorgia   and Muriceopsis   species), stony corals ( Polycyathus cf. senegalensis   Chevalier, 1966 in the same cryptic positions as Alcyonium pusillum   sp. n.) and sponges (Fig. 5C).

Comparison with other species.

The two encrusting Alcyonium   species previously described from Congo, Alcyonium globosum   Tixier-Durivault, 1955, and Alcyonium laxum   Tixier-Durivault, 1955, now referred to Complexum   , differ from Complexum pusillum   sp. n. in lacking clubs in the surface of the polyparium. Moreover, both these species have many lobes and coloured polyps. Other encrusting Alcyonium   species reported from the west Atlantic now referred to Complexum   are Alcyonium patulum   Tixier-Durivault, 1955 and Alcyonium strictum   Tixier-Durivault, 1955, from Mauritania. Alcyonium patulum   resembles Alcyonium strictum   but is red with yellow polyps and has no clubs. Alcyonium strictum   resembles Alcyonium pusillum   sp. n. more than any other species, it also has clubs with a spiny head, but it has many small oval sclerites in the base, and is purple with yellow polyps.

Molecular phylogeny.

A phylogenetic analysis has been performed, based on part of the mitochondrial COI gene and of the adjacent intergenic region (igr) which have been amplified according to McFadden et al. (2011). Additional Octocoral COI-igr sequences were retrieved from GenBank following a Blast search with the Complexum pusillum   sequence as a query. As a comparison, Alcyonium   spp. sequences were specifically retrieved from GenBank and included in the analysis. Alcyonium monodi   sequences (referred to Complexum monodi   ) were kindly provided by Catherine McFadden and included in the dataset. They correspond to colonies sampled in 2012 in Senegal (10 km South of Dakar) at 15 m depth by Peter Wirtz. A phylogenetic reconstruction based on maximum likelihood (ML) has been performed with RaxML 8.1 ( Stamatakis 2014) with a General Time Reversible + Gamma model and a rapid bootstrap analysis (1000 re-samplings). The nuclear gene coding for 28S ribosomal RNA has also been sequenced for Complexum pusillum   following McFadden and Ofwegen (2013a) and the obtained sequence has been compared to other octocoral sequences thanks to a Blast search and a similar ML analysis. The COI-IGR sequence of Complexum pusillum   has been deposited in GenBank (KP006396).

Tixier-Durivault (1955) described three other Alcyonium   species from West Africa, Alcyonium altum   , Alcyonium leave   and Alcyonium violaceum   . Verseveldt and Bayer (1988) referred Alcyonium altum   and Alcyonium violaceum   to the genus Nidaliopsis   Kükenthal, 1906. It is unknown to us why Verseveldt and Bayer did not mention Alcyonium leave   , we consider it to also belong to Nidaliopsis   . This leaves Alcyonium senegalense   Verseveldt & Ofwegen, 1992 from Senegal as the only Alcyonium   species in West Africa. However, it has capstans and ovals in the coenenchyme ( Verseveldt and Ofwegen 1992: figs 20-21), and therefore also does not match the current diagnosis of Alcyonium   . We prefer to wait till molecular data of this species are available before describing another new genus to accommodate it. Superficially Complexum   is similar to Alcyonium   , it has the same type of colony shapes, and the sclerite arrangement in the polyps is also similar. Alcyonium   differs in having clearly different sclerite types in surface layer and interior, radiates and club-like forms in the surface layer, and long spindles in the interior.

The phylogenetic analysis based on mitochondrial COI-IGR clearly confirmed the separation of Complexum   from Alcyonium   species (family Alcyoniidae   ) (Fig. 6). Indeed these species appear close to Eunicella   (family Gorgoniidae   ; 99% bootstrap support) but the precise relationships between Complexum   and Eunicella   remain to be investigated with more species and the use of additional markers to get more robust information inside that group. A Blast analysis of the 28S sequence of Complexum pusillum   in GenBank confirmed the closer relationship of this group with Eunicella   compared to Alcyonium   (data not shown). The current family-level taxonomy of octocorals needs extensive revision ( McFadden et al. 2010) and therefore we keep the new genus in the family Alcyoniidae   .