Phylogeny of Tunicata inferred from molecular and morphological characters

Department of Biological Sciences, University of Arkansas, 019 West Avenue Annex, Fayetteville 72701, USA.
Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution (Impact Factor: 3.92). 01/2003; 25(3):408-28. DOI: 10.1016/S1055-7903(02)00305-6
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The phylogeny of the Tunicata was reconstructed using molecular and morphological characters. Mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I (cox1) and 18S rDNA sequences were obtained for 14 and 4 tunicate species, respectively. 18S rDNA sequences were aligned with gene sequences obtained from GenBank of 57 tunicates, a cephalochordate, and a selachian craniate. Cox1 sequences were aligned with the sequence of two ascidians and a cephalochordate obtained from GenBank. Traditional, morphological, life history, and biochemical characters of larval and adult stages were compiled from the literature and analyzed cladistically. Separate and simultaneous parsimony analyses of molecular and morphological data were carried out. Aplousobranch ascidians from three different families were included in a molecular phylogenetic analysis for the first time. Analysis of the morphological, life history, and biochemical characters results in a highly unresolved tree. Aplousobranchiata form a strongly supported monophylum in the analysis of the 18S rDNA data, the morphological data, and the combined data set. Cionidae is not included in the Aplousobranchiata but nests within the Phlebobranchiata. Appendicularia (=Larvacea) nest within the 'Ascidiacea' as the sister taxon of Aplousobranchiata in the parsimony analysis of the 18S rDNA data and the combined analysis. A potential morphological synapomorphy of Aplousobranchiata plus Appendicularia is the horizontal orientation of the larval tail. In the 18S rDNA and the combined analysis, Thaliacea is included in the 'Ascidiacea' as the sister group to Phlebobranchiata. Pyrosomatida is found to be the sister taxon to the Salpidae in analyses of 18S rDNA and combined data, whereas the analysis of the morphological data recovers a sister group relationship between Doliolidae and Salpidae. Results of cox1 analyses are incongruent with both the 18S rDNA and the morphological phylogenies. Cox1 sequences may evolve too rapidly to resolve relationships of higher tunicate taxa. However, the cox1 data may be useful at lower taxonomic levels.

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