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The phylogeography of the Placozoa suggests a taxon-rich phylum in tropical and subtropical waters

Authors

  • M. EITEL,

    1. Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover, ITZ, Ecology and Evolution, Bünteweg 17d, D-30559 Hannover, Germany
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  • B. SCHIERWATER

    1. Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover, ITZ, Ecology and Evolution, Bünteweg 17d, D-30559 Hannover, Germany
    2. American Museum of Natural History, New York, Division of Invertebrate Zoology, 79 St at Central Park West, New York, NY 10024, USA
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Michael Eitel, Fax: +(49) 511 953 8584; E-mail: michael.eitel@ecolevol.de

Abstract

Placozoa has been a key phylum for understanding early metazoan evolution. Yet this phylum is officially monotypic and with respect to its general biology and ecology has remained widely unknown. Worldwide sampling and sequencing of the mitochondrial large ribosomal subunit (16S) reveals a cosmopolitan distribution in tropical and subtropical waters of genetically different clades. We sampled a total of 39 tropical and subtropical locations worldwide and found 23 positive sites for placozoans. The number of genetically characterized sites was thereby increased from 15 to 37. The new sampling identified the first genotypes from two new oceanographic regions, the Eastern Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. We found seven out of 11 previously known haplotypes as well as five new haplotypes. One haplotype resembles a new genetic clade, increasing the number of clades from six to seven. Some of these clades seem to be cosmopolitan whereas others appear to be endemic. The phylogeography also shows that different clades occupy different ecological niches and identifies several euryoecious haplotypes with a cosmopolitic distribution as well as some stenoecious haplotypes with an endemic distribution. Haplotypes of different clades differ substantially in their phylogeographic distribution according to latitude. The genetic data also suggest deep phylogenetic branching patterns between clades.

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