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PhD student, FRS-FNRS Research Fellow

phone: +32 (0) 486 459 286

e-mail: Catalina.Ramirez.Portilla@ulb.be

Personal website

Catalina Ramírez-Portilla on ResearchGate

Research interests

PhD research project

Delineating species boundaries in the speciose Acropora coral genus

Supervisor: Jean-François Flot

Co-supervisor: Thomas Wilke (Justus-Liebig-Universität, Gießen - Germany)

Delimiting species is not only a central issue in evolutionary and systematic biology but also a prerequisite to physiological, ecological and population genetic studies. However, the delineation of species boundaries in highly diverse environments remains challenging. In shallow tropical coral reefs, this is exemplified by the scleractinian coral genus Acropora, which exhibits more than a hundred morphospecies and provides an excellent training ground to propose and validate new taxonomic practices.

Traditional hypotheses that separate lineages in these cnidarians have long been based on morphological traits that did not yield significant resolution. The plastic response of corals to environmental variations along with reports of intermediate morphotypes in field have also hindered this delineation, casting doubt on current species delimitations. Molecular delimitation attempts in Acropora corals have so far been unsuccessful due to widespread genealogical incongruence among markers and between morphological groupings, mating trials, and molecular clades obtained in phylogenetic analyses. However, preliminary data suggest that novel species delimitation approaches that identify groups of diploid individuals sharing a common allele pool could provide a solution to this long-standing problem by yielding groups that are congruent with the results of mating trials, if not with morphology.

Consequently, the aim of this project is to test the current delineation of species boundaries in Acropora corals. For this purpose, we will first perform a comparison between different molecular approaches to delimitate species, in order to select the most suitable alternative. According to this, we will apply the corresponding methodology to re-evaluate current species delimitation in Acropora genus and we will conclude by comparing the congruence of the resulting delineation with mating trials performed in the field.

Educational background

  1. 2012 - 2015: MSc. Biological Sciences

  2. Departamento de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá (Colombia)

  3. Thesis: Assembling the genome of Pacifigorgia irene: The quest for genomic level landmarks in gorgonian octocorals

  4. Supervisors: Juan A. Sánchez & Alejandro Reyes

  5. 2005 - 2010: BSc. Environmental & Industrial Microbiology

  6. Escuela de Microbiología, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín (Colombia)

  7. Thesis: Genetic and metabolic bacterial diversity in thermal springs of the Nevado del Ruíz volcano

  8. Supervisor: Juan P. Niño


Peer-reviewed publications

Celis JS, Wibberg D, Ramírez-Portilla C, Rupp O, Sczyrba A, Winkler A, Kalinowski J, Wilke T (2018) Binning enables efficient host genome reconstruction in cnidarian holobionts. GigaScience, 7:1–12.
doi: 10.1093/gigascience/giy075

Gonzalez-Zapata FL, Bongaerts P, Ramírez-Portilla C, Adu-Oppong B, Walljasper G, Reyes A, Sánchez JA (2018) Holobiont diversity in a reef-building coral over its entire depth range in the mesophotic zone. Frontiers in Marine Science 5:29.
doi: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00029

Quintanilla E, Ramírez-Portilla C, Adu-Oppong B, Walljasper G, Glaeser SP, Wilke T, Reyes A, Sánchez JA (2018) Local confinement of disease-related microbiome facilitates recovery of gorgonian sea fans from necrotic-patch disease. Scientific Reports, 8:14636.
doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-33007-8

Quattrini AM, Faircloth BC, Dueñas LF, Bridge TCL, Brugler MR, Calixto-Botía IF, DeLeo DM, Forêt S, Herrera S, Lee SMY, Miller DJ, Prada C, Rádis-Baptista G, Ramírez-Portilla C, Sánchez JA, Rodríguez E, McFadden CS (2017) Universal target-enrichment baits for anthozoan (Cnidaria) phylogenomics: new approaches to long-standing problems. Molecular Ecology Resources.
doi: 10.1111/1755-0998.12736

Quintanilla E, Wilke T, Ramírez-Portilla C, Sarmiento A, Sánchez JA (2017) Taking a detour: invasion of an octocoral into the Tropical Eastern Pacific. Biological Invasions 19, 2583-2597.
doi: 10.1007/s10530-017-1469-2

Ramírez-Portilla C, Baird AH, Cowman PF, et al. (In press) Solving the coral species delimitation conundrum. Systematic Biology.
doi: 10.1093/sysbio/syab077

Reyes-Bermudez A, Villar-Briones A, Ramírez-Portilla C, Hidaka M, Mikheyev AS (2016) Developmental progression in the coral Acropora digitifera is controlled by differential expression of distinct regulatory gene networks. Genome Biology and Evolution 8, 851-870.
doi: 10.1093/gbe/evw042

Other publications

Ramírez-Portilla C et al. (2013) En busca de los colores ocultos del arrecife. Hipótesis: Apuntes científicos uniandinos, 14: 58-65.


Ramírez-Portilla C, Baird AH, Cowman PF, Quattrini AM, Harii S, Sinniger F, Flot J-F (2021). An integrated approach to delineating species boundaries in tabular Acropora14th International Coral Reef Symposium, Bremen (Germany) - virtual

Ramírez-Portilla C, Baird A, Flot J-F (2018) Treading thin lines: delineating species boundaries in the speciose Acropora coral genus. 5th Young Reef Scientists Meeting, Munich (Germany)

Ramírez-Portilla, C, Isomura N, Flot J-F (2017) Species delimitation and hybrid detection in tropical Acropora coral species. European Coral Reef Symposium, Oxford (UK).

Ramírez-Portilla C, Flot J-F (2017) Species delimitation and hybrid detection in tropical Acropora coral species. European Conference of Tropical Ecology, Brussels (Belgium).

Ramírez-Portilla C, Reyes A, Sánchez JA (2014) The quest for immune signals in basal metazoans: genomic level screening of immune response in gorgonian octocorals. IV Congreso Colombiano de Zoología, Cartagena de Indias (Colombia).

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