Gap-coding permits the use of continuous metric characters in cladistic analyses. Character means are converted to integer equivalents by placing character state divisions in the locations of phenetic breaks between specimen clusters, under the assumption that these breaks represent the locations of bottlenecks in character distributions. Similarities and differences between specimens from closely related species of cystoporate bryozoans were evaluated for the first time by converting continuous morphometric measurements into gap-coded binary and multistate characters and analyzing them cladistically, rather than just phenetically, across multiple species of Strotopora, Cliotrypa ramosa and Fistulipora compressa.
Our results demonstrate that cladistic analysis of gap-coded morphological characters can be effective in resolving phylogenetic relationships at low taxonomic levels (within and among genera) while objectively highlighting both the morphological features that specimens (taxa) share and those characteristics that differentiate them. Differences in cystiphragm abundances and sizes, especially in the proximal portions of colonies, discriminate between species of Strotopora. Colony size and growth form, abundances and lengths of hemiphragms, and sizes of cystopores discriminate between Strotopora and the closely related genus Cliotrypa. Cladistic patterns indicate that Strotopora foveolata Ulrich is a valid species with Strotopora dermata as its junior subjective synonym. Fistulipora compressa is reassigned to the genus Strotopora whereas a decision on the taxonomic status of Cliotrypa ramosa requires a broader cladistic analysis of fistuliporine genera.