ABSTRACT: The phylum Cnidaria is comprised of remarkably diverse and ecologically significant taxa, such as the reef-forming corals, and occupies a basal position in metazoan evolution. The origin of this phylum and the most recent common ancestors (MRCAs) of its modern classes remain mostly unknown, although scattered fossil evidence provides some insights on this topic. Here, we investigate the molecular divergence times of the major taxonomic groups of Cnidaria (27 Hexacorallia, 16 Octocorallia, and 5 Medusozoa) on the basis of mitochondrial DNA sequences of 13 protein-coding genes. For this analysis, the complete mitochondrial genomes of seven octocoral and two scyphozoan species were newly sequenced and combined with all available mitogenomic data from GenBank. Five reliable fossil dates were used to calibrate the Bayesian estimates of divergence times. The molecular evidence suggests that cnidarians originated 741 million years ago (Ma) (95% credible region of 686-819), and the major taxa diversified prior to the Cambrian (543 Ma). The Octocorallia and Scleractinia may have originated from radiations of survivors of the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, which matches their fossil record well.
Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 01/2012; 62(1):329-45. · 3.61 Impact Factor